When World War II broke out, women found ways to support the war effort in a variety of ways—including taking to the skies.

Creating the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)

Women’s Flying Training Detachment

Jacqueline Cochran was one of several women who felt women should be utilized in wartime aviation. In 1941, Cochran selected a group of 27 highly qualified U.S. women pilots to ferry military aircraft in Great Britain for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), as most male military pilots were flying in combat. In 1942, Cochran, at the request of Army General Henry "Hap" Arnold, organized the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) to train civilian women pilots in anticipation of a similar domestic shortage of American military pilots during World War II.

More About Jacqueline Cochran
Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron

Nancy Love also recognized the coming need for pilots to ferry aircraft and identified highly qualified women pilots in the U.S. who could perform such duties. 
In September 1942, the Army Air Corps' Air Transport Command approved the creation of a temporary, civilian women's flying corps, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), under the direction of Love.  

More About Nancy Love

In 1943, Cochran’s WFTD merged with Nancy Love's WAFS to form the civilian WASP. Cochran was the director; Love remained in charge of the WAFS unit.

More About the Origin of the WASP

Who Were the WASP? What Did the WASP Do?

From 1943 to 1944, over 1,000 women flew over 60 million miles ferrying aircraft and personnel, towing targets, and other transport duties as part of the WASP. The WASP flew every military aircraft including Boeing B-17 and B-29 bombers.

More About the Contributions of the WASP

Meet Members of the WASP

Cornelia Fort

Cornelia Fort was flying with a student pilot on the morning of December 7, 1941, when they nearly collided with a Japanese aircraft leaving the scene at Pearl Harbor. Fort was the second woman to volunteer for Nancy Love’s WAFS. On a routine ferrying flight in 1943, Fort died at the controls of an aircraft when another plane struck hers.

Hazel Ying Lee

Hazel Ying Lee was one of two Chinese American women accepted into the WASP. Among the aircraft Lee flew as a WASP were the P-51 Mustang and P-63 Kingcobra. Tragically, Lee died in the line of duty when she collided with another plane while delivering a P-63 to Great Falls, Montana.

The FAA notes, “Of the 1,012 women who [were] in the WASP program 38 died in service. Lee was the last.”

Racism Kept Some Women from the Ranks

Black women were kept from becoming WASP due to their race.

Willa Brown was one such woman. An accomplished aviator, she contributed to the war effort through other means.

More About Willa Brown

Disbanding and Fighting for Veteran's Status

The WASP were disbanded in 1944, and Cochran was at the center of complications that prevented the group from being absorbed into the USAAF's Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). 

During World War II, although WASP flew military planes, they were not granted military status. One of the ways this affected them at the time, when a WASP who were killed in the line of duty, her friends or family, rather than the military, were left to pay their funeral expenses. 

At a 1972 WASP reunion, the women resolved to restore their legacy by applying for official veteran recognition. In 1977, Congress passed a bill that granted the WASP veteran’s status. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed legislation awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

More About the Fight for Recognition

Learn More about the WASP

Podcast Episode STEM in 30 Episode

Women in Other Roles During World War II

WASP were not the only way women were involved in World War II. From working in factories on the homefront, to serving in the military, to cracking codes, there were a variety of ways women advanced the war effort. 


Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) Code Breaking