Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs)

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Air Force Service Pilots. Courtesy of US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons.

In the early 1940s in the midst of World War II, more than 1,000 women left their homes for an opportunity to help their country by flying the skies. Under the command of Nancy Harkness Love and the direction of Jacqueline Cochran, they became the first licensed women pilots to fly in the United States Air Force Service and were known as the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs).

In 1939, Jacqueline Cochran wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt to introduce the idea of a women’s division in the Army Air Force. She saw qualified women pilots as an untapped resource that could be of great help in domestic, non-warfare jobs, and a way to free more male pilots for combat. The WASP program was originally established on August 5, 1943, with the approval of General Henry "Hap" Arnold, by merging Cochran's Women Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and Love's Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS).

The WASPs served in the Air Force, first as pilots who ferried planes, then as instructors, and finally by performing any job that would relieve men for combat.  In the beginning, women enlisted for the opportunity to serve their country, but many stayed for the thrill of flying.