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NEWS | March 17, 2014

WASPs: Leading the way for female pilots

By Airmen 1st Class Areca T. Wilson and Kimberly Nagle 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

March marks the observance of Women in Aviation Month, which highlights the contributions of women in the history of flight.

Since 1942, female pilots paved the way for women in aviation, their influence opening doors for today's female pilots.

In August 1943, The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron merged withed Jackie Cochran's training program, forming the Women Airforce Service Pilots when the United States entered World War II. More than 1,000 women participated as civilians were attached to the U. S. Army Air Forces. The program disbanded one year later due to the influx of male pilots.

During the final graduating class of the WASPs, former Chief of the Air Corps, Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, paid tribute to them.

"You have shown that you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers," said Arnold. "If ever there was doubt in anyone's mind that women could become skilled pilots, the WASPs dispelled that doubt. I want to stress how valuable the whole WASP program has been for the country."

Though 1,074 WASPs flew more than 60 million miles during WWII, they were not considered the first female military pilots.

The U.S. Army officially recognized 2nd Lt. Sally D. Woolfolk as the Army's first female pilot. She received her wings to fly the UH-1 Huey helicopter, June 4, 1974.

According to her official biography, after pinning on her wings, she was asked if she would recommend flight school for other women.

"I definitely encourage women to apply for it, if they are interested in doing something out of the ordinary," Woolfolk said.

One of the women able to follow in Woolfolk's footsteps, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christy Craemer CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot from the 159th General Support Aviation Battalion, at Fort Eustis. Craemer flew Chinooks and UH-60 Blackhawks for more than 18 years.

"Female or male, it doesn't matter,"Craemer said, encouraging Service members to follow their dreams of flight. "Just don't stop being who you are; be the best pilot regardless of gender."