In 1942, the United States was faced with a severe shortage of pilots, and leaders gambled on an experimental program to help fill the void: Train women to fly military aircraft so male pilots could be released for combat duty overseas.
The group of female pilots was called the Women Airforce Service Pilots — WASP for short. In 1944, during the graduation ceremony for the last WASP training class, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry "Hap" Arnold, said that when the program started, he wasn't sure "whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather."
"Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men," Arnold said.
A few more than 1,100 young women, all civilian volunteers, flew almost every type of military aircraft — including the B-26 and B-29 bombers — as part of the WASP program. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points across the country. They tested newly overhauled planes. And they towed targets to give ground and air gunners training shooting — with live ammunition. The WASP expected to become part of the military during their service. Instead, the program was canceled after just two years.
Cornelia Fort posing with a PT-19 aircraft.
Nancy Harkness Love posing in front of a PT-19A trainer aircraft, 1942-43. Note WAFS patch on her jacket (forerunner of the WASPs).
WASP pilot Deanie (Bishop) Parrish in front of her P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft, circa early 1940s.
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of P-40 Warhawk fighter, circa 1942-1945.
Hazel Lee posing with a biplane, circa 1930s.
Celia Hunter in the cockpit of a P-47 fighter.
Betty Gillies posing besides an aircraft.
WASP pilot Dawn Seymour at the controls of a B-17 Fortress, 1944.
WASP Nancy Love in the cockpit of Fairchild PT-19 trainer, 1944
WAFS pilot Nancy Harkness Love in the cockpit of B-17 Flying Fortress bomber 'Queen Bee', Sep 1943.
WASP cadets Leonora Anderson and Mildred Axton show off the oversized and ill-fitting jump suits provided to the WASP program, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, United States, May 1943.
Autographed copy of a posed photo of WAFS pilot Florene Watson with an AT-6 Texan, Love Field, Dallas, Texas, United States, Feb 1943.
WASP pilot Elizabeth L. Gardner at the window of her B-26 Marauder bomber, Harlingen Army Air Field, Texas, United States, circa 1942-1945.
WASP pilot Catherine Vail Bridge standing in front of a P-38 Lightning.
WASP pilot Ruth Dailey climbing into a P-38 Lightning aircraft, 28 Nov 1944.
WASP pilot Anne Armstrong McClellan showing off the WASP dress white uniform blouse and pin showing the WASP mascot, Fifinella (designed by Walt Disney and used by the WASPs with permission), 1944.
WASP pilot Margaret Phelan Taylor, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, United States, Jun 1944.
WASP pilot Lillian Yonally seated in the cockpit of an A-25A Shrike at Camp Irwin airstrip, California, 1944.
WASP pilot Susie Winston Bain, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, United States, May 1944.
WASP pilot Nancy Nesbit seated in the cockpit of an AT-6 Texan at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 1944.
WASP pilot Ellen Wimberly Campbell, 44-W-7, at the controls of a Beech AT-10 Wichita trainer, 1944. Location uncertain but likely Columbus Army Air Field, Columbus, Mississippi.
Unidentified WW2 WASP pilots. 1943
WASP pilots Eloise Huffines Bailey, Millie Davidson Dalrymple, Elizabeth McKethan Magid, and Clara Jo Marsh Stember in front of their B-24 aircraft, Aug 1943
WASPs at Camp Davis in Onslow County, Texas. 1944
WASP members on the flight line at Laredo Army Air Field, Texas, January 22, 1944
These four female pilots leaving their ship, Pistol Packin' Mama, at the four engine school at Lockbourne AAF, Ohio, are members of a group of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) who have been trained to ferry the B-17 Flying Fortresses. L to R are Frances Green, Margaret (Peg) Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn.
Helen W. Snapp, flying for the Low-target Squadron, at Camp Stewart, Georgia June 1944.
Florene Watson shown preparing a P-51D-5NA for a ferry flight from a factory at Inglewood, California.
WASP pilot Vivian Eddy in the door of a P-39 Airacobra, 1945.
WASP pilot Dorothy Olsen on the wing of a P-38L Lightning, 1945.