Ken Beaton: The wind beneath my wings
Is everything historical found in history books? No! True or false — the first USAF female pilots graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982? False, the first female pilots were WASPs, Women Airforce Service Pilots.
From 1942 to 1944 more than 25,000 women applied, 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 graduated as WASPs. They had the same flight school training and demanding standards as male pilots. Thirty-eight WASPs died in the line of duty.
WASPs were ferry pilots. They flew planes from the factory to their assigned air base. WASPs flew B-17s across the “pond” to the 8th Air Force in England. The WASP patch worn on their left shoulder had the Walt Disney movie character, Fifinella, Fifi.
Col. Paul Tibbets was the commanding officer of the 509th Composite Group, which secretly trained at the Wendover, Utah USAAF base at the Nevada border. The B-29 was designed to fly to Japan and drop an atomic bomb. The design, development and testing of the B-29 cost more than the entire Manhattan Project, refining uranium, designing, developing and detonating three weapons of mass destruction.
Boeing designed the B-29 which used four Wright R3350 Cyclone engines. The engines overheated; scuttlebutt was the B-29 had the “wrong engines.” Several pilots died in crashes including a test pilot. This caused pilots in training to be concerned.
Col. Tibbets selected two WASPs, Dora Strother and Dede Moorman, who had never flown a four engine plane. After two days of instruction, each WASP flew a B-29. After landing, they taxied up to a group B-29 air cadets. The air cadets did not want to fly the plane. When they saw Dora and Dede taxi up to them, climb out of the cockpit and greet them “Hi, boys.” They were embarrassed and decided, “If a woman can fly a B-29, I can fly it.”
The B-29 ended World War II by dropping one atomic bomb on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki, Japan. Not only were American lives saved, but millions of Japanese also.
There were 3,970 B-29s produced. Debbie Travis King is a Commemorative Air Force pilot. She flies the one remaining B-29 FAA certified to fly. The CAF’s Super Fortress is appropriately named, “Fifi.” Debbie and I agree with Jim Slattery’s quote, “History that is not remembered is history that is forgotten.”
Debbie is asking you to preserve history. Please join me and donate to the WASP museum expansion located at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, the WASP training base — 1,074 WASPs deserve to be remembered as an example of determination. A homecoming event at Avenger Field will be enjoyed by all who attend on May 23. You can make your donation by calling 325-235-0099, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or going to their website http://waspmuseum.org/.
Today’s USAF female pilots stand on the shoulders of the WASPs who proudly wore the Fifi patch. Lt. Colonel Nicole Malachowski was the first female in the USAF’s Thunderbirds in 2006 flying the No. 3 (right wing) aircraft in the diamond position. Nicole knows her roots. Her aviator call sign is “Fifi.”
FYI: Hazel Stamper Hohn was a WASP. After the war she raised two sons and two daughters in Carson City. She had her pilot’s license, but she never had a driver’s license. My guess, Hazel loved “the wind beneath her wings.”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.