This past March we returned to the “Women in Aviation” conference. With 150 exhibitors and 3,200 participants, it is an aviation conference that was initially geared specifically to women but has become an influential and broadly relevant event in recent years. We, again, got to know many talented people. Heading to Dallas this year we were particularly excited about catching up with a very special woman in aviation, Jean McCreery. She is a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who served our country in World War II.
Few people today may even be aware of a letter Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt received in 1939 and a similar note that went to the Air Corps’ Ferry Command, encouraging the use of women pilots in the armed forces. Written independently by two successful women aviators, Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love, these letters ultimately resulted in the founding of WASP and helped set the stage for today’s female USAF pilots. In addition to ferrying planes from factories to points of embarkation, the WASP program provided flight training instructors, glider tow pilots, tow-target pilots for air-to-air and anti-aircraft gunnery practice, and engineering test flight pilots. Across their many missions, WASP pilots flew all of the military planes of that time. That in itself is a remarkable feat.
Although the program was deactivated just before the war ended as the demand for pilots had decreased, the impact of WASP on aviation is clear. In the mid 1970s the U.S. Navy announced for the first time in history that women would be permitted to fly military planes. In 1977, Congress finally acknowledged and militarized WASP pilots. And in 2010, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to the remaining group of WASP pilots and to family members of those who had passed away. The determination and perseverance of these young women in the 1940s opened the door to aviation for many more women to come. Our experience in Dallas proved that point yet again.