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Jacqueline Cochran: Beautician to WASPs, trailblazer

By Beverly Joyner 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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When Jacqueline Cochran was appointed as director of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in 1942, she had already made history as the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic during World War II.

 

According to the National Archives, prior to earning her pilot’s license, Cochran studied nursing and was employed as a beautician before establishing her own cosmetics company. After Cochran became interested in flying, she took lessons and bought her own plane to use for personal and business travel.

 

While managing her cosmetics company, Cochran started competing in professional aeronautical racing and set several speed records. In 1938, she became the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy for a 2,042-mile air-race that started in Los Angeles, California, and ended in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

Concerned about the possibility of war in Europe, Cochran contacted the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 to suggest training and incorporating female pilots to fly military aircraft during wartime.

 

When Cochran learned that her recommendations would not be implemented, she decided to recruit groups of qualified U.S. female pilots to join the British Air Transport Auxiliary in England, which transported supplies, equipment and ferried military aircraft between factories.

 

Amongst the shortage of U.S. Army Air Corps pilots during World War II, Cochran received an invitation to become the director of the WASPs, where she established a training center and supervised the training of more than 1,000 female pilots.

 

According to the U.S. Army website, Cochran would then go on to become the founder of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment in 1942 in Houston, Texas. In that same year, Nancy Harkness Love launched the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at New Castle Army Air Base, Delaware.

 

The WFTD and WAFS merged into the WASP organization in 1943, which was disbanded in 1944 after 16 months of operations. During that time, over 25,000 females applied for WASP training, 1,879 were accepted and 1,074 completed the program.

 

To commemorate and celebrate the vital roles of women in American history, Women’s History Month began as Women’s History Week on March 7, 1982. After a petition was submitted by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Public Law 100-9 in 1987 to designate the month of March as Women’s History Month.

 

For more information about Jacqueline Cochran or the history of U.S. female pilots, visit www.archives.gov or www.army.mil.  


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