partners exhibit heading

women in the military
Women in
Military Service




At first the military resisted using experienced women pilots who volunteered their services. This soon changed, but the women pilots who flew military aircraft did so as civilians.

Betty Jane Aviator World War II

In the photo to the left is Betty Williams, WASP engineering test pilot, shortly after landing a P-40N upon completion of a test flight, Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas, November 1944.


In the photo to the right is WASP Irma Story at the controls of her aircraft at Harlingen Army Air Field, Harlingen, Texas.

WASP pilot

In 1942 under the leadership of Nancy Harkness Love, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) flew aircraft from where they were manufactured to bases where they were needed. To qualify, these women had to have had extensive flight experience. Members of WAFS were civilian employees who were hired under 3 month contracts and were assigned to no military unit. Also in 1942, Jacqueline Cochran founded the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) to perform any kind of flight service required by the Army Air Corps in addition to ferrying.

In 1943, the WAFS and WFTD merged under the leadership of Jacqueline Cochran to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) to perform the full array of flight services. These civilian volunteer service pilots were required to pay for initial flight training before qualifying for more extensive training on military aircraft. Over 25,000 women applied, 1,830 served performing crucial and dangerous missions, and 38 died.

In the photo below on the left, Model Jean Colleran dons a Women’s Air Ferrying Squadron uniform for the October 1943 issue of The American Magazine. The photo on the right is the cover of a Life magazine, 19 July 1943.

The American magazine 1945

Life Magazine, Air Force Pilot on the cover
Harriet Blake WASP pilot WASP trainees

Above on the left, WASP Harriet Train dresses appropriately for the open cockpit of a biplane. Above on the right WASP trainees with an Army Air Corps civilian instructor on the flight line, at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, May 1943.


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 Photo Credits (L to R): #1-5: The Women's Memorial, #6: The National Archives

(c) Copyright National Women's History Museum 2007