Archives serve an incredibly valuable function for historical interpretation. Photographic archives, in particular, present a unique visual reading of the past, and they are a vital resource in the early stages of gallery formation. The United States Air Force Collection, now at the National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, Maryland, contains a range of color transparencies featuring the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Part of my summer internship with the Aeronautics Department was spent exploring and scanning images from this incredible resource, as the Museum conducts research for upcoming gallery transformations.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the WASP founding in August 1943, we are excited to bring you some original, newly digitized images from the archive, complete with the original captions given to these images when they were taken.
Original transparencies must be stored in a cold vault. Each transparency contains a sleeve with identifying information and accompanying caption. Credit: National Air and Space Museum
Founded in 1943 with the merging of the Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), the WASPs flew 60 million miles during World War II, piloting military aircraft on domestic missions. Their director, Jacqueline Cochran, became the first female aviator to break the sound barrier in 1953.
Original Caption: “Miss Jacqueline Cochran, Director of WASP.” Credit: Image Number 4A-23096-K1210, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland
Though they performed a wide variety of tasks, the Women Airforce Service Pilots often carried out ferrying missions to transport aircraft for the war effort. WASPs flew the entire range of aircraft manufactured for World War II. In this series, we see P-51s, a P-38, and a BT-13.
The WASPs were disbanded in 1944, and it would be an additional 30 years before women would once again serve as aviators in the United States Armed Forces. Reflecting on the 75 years since the founding of the WASP, these archival images provide a stark reminder of the pioneering efforts and achievements of female military aviators during World War II. Such sources allow us to critically analyze the past, the creation of the historical record, and their importance to our cultural memory.