You’ve probably heard plenty about the contributions made by women at home in the States during World War II. Led by cultural icon Rosie the Riveter, women stepped into factory and manufacturing roles that, in those days, they would not have normally occupied to make up for the large number of men overseas. However, female contributions to the war did not end at United States borders. Many women also got in the cockpit and participated in the war firsthand. These women made up the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.
The initial concept for the WASP began with Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, a female pilot who already had a considerable amount of notoriety due to her participation in various air races and war efforts with the British Air Transport Auxiliary. As the United States joined the war and increased its military power, plenty of gaps in personnel were left unfilled. Cochran saw this as an opportunity to utilize the growing number of female pilots in the country, and the seeds for the WASP program were planted.
1,900 female pilots were accepted into the WASP program, with over 1,000 earning their wings. These women became the first women to pilot American military aircraft. They were stationed at over 100 airbases across the US, flying nearly every model of aircraft and primarily transporting cargo.
Despite the enthusiasm from Cochran and other female pilots, the program came under harsh criticism. Servicemen feared losing their jobs to women. Unfortunately because of this, WASP women did not receive military benefits and were not granted full military status. The program was ultimately disbanded in late 1944.
Today, the women in the WASP program are highly regarded for both their contributions of military service and their pioneering achievements for women in the aviation field. In 2009, the WASP program was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, with three surviving WASP members in attendance.