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Explore Newly Digitized Photos of WWII Women Pilots

Posted on Fri, August 10, 2018
  • by: Caroline Johnson, Aeronautics Intern
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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.

WASP Images in Archival Storage. Each transparency contains a sleeve with identifying information and accompanying caption.

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.

Jacqueline Cochran, Director of the WASP

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.

  • “WAFs and Army Pilot. The girls pilot the P-51s and other airplanes from factory to airbases within the United States.”

    Original Caption: “WAFs and Army Pilot. The girls pilot the P-51s and other airplanes from factory to airbases within the United States.” Credit: Image Number 4A-22679-K619, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland

  • WAFs who ferry North American P-51’s and other types of airplanes from factory to airbases.

    Original Caption: “WAFs who ferry North American P-51’s and other types of airplanes from factory to airbases. Barbara Jane Erickson, in cockpit, and Evelyn Sharp, both of Seattle, Washington.” Credit: Image Number 4A-22681-K621, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland

  • Pilot in Women’s Air Service prior to take-off.

    Original Caption: “Pilot in Women’s Air Service prior to take-off.” Credit: Image Number 4A-22683-K2045, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland

  • WASP Pilots at the AAF’s Training Command’s Advanced single engine pilot school

    Original Caption: “Swinging down along the ramp at the AAF’s Training Command’s Advanced single engine pilot school at Foster Field, Victoria, Texas, are eight feminine pilots, members of the AF WASP. Left to right: Pauline S. Cutler of Cleveland, Ohio,; Dorothy Ehrhardt, Bridgewater, Mass.; Jennie M. Hill of Harvey, Ill.; Etta Mae Hollinger, Paola, Kans.; Lucille R. Cary, Joliet, Ill.; Jane B. Shirley, Brownfield Tex.; Dorothy H. Beard, Sacramento, Calif.; and Kathryn L. Boyd, Weatherford, Texas.” Credit: Image Number 4A-22689-K3616, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland

  • WASP climbing into a Lockheed P-38 preparatory to ferrying mission

    Original Caption: “WASP climbing into a Lockheed P-38 preparatory to ferrying mission.” Credit: Image Number 4A-22684-K2046, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland

  • WASPS and instructor having a talk before take-off for a ferrying mission

    Original Caption: “WASPS and instructor having a talk before take-off for a ferrying mission.” Credit: Image Number 4A-22686-K2048, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland

  • WASP Ann McClellan adjusts her earphones in the cockpit of a BT-13

    Original Caption: “WASP Ann McClellan adjusts her earphones in the cockpit of a BT-13 while Anne Johnson stands on the wing of the plane.” Credit: Image Number 4A-22688-K3615, Record Group 342, National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, College Park, Maryland

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.

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