It was a pioneering organization of civilian women pilots affixed to the United States Army Air Forces to fly military aircraft during World War II. Although the WASP program and its members had no military position and their objective was only to free male pilots for combat roles during World War II, during its short activity time (August 1943 – December 1944), WASP’s members have had though various rigorous tasks. Becoming trained pilots, they tested aircraft, transported every type of military aircraft, including cargo, simulated attacking missions, and trained other pilots. When WASP was dissolved in 1944, almost 2.500 women were accepted for training, from which about 800 completed training.
The records of the WASP program, like virtually all wartime records, were classified and sealed for thirty-five years, making thus their roles in the war effort undiscovered and unreachable even to historians, let alone to the public. The early endeavors to earn recognition for the WASP started in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t easy, considering the exclusively prejudiced male-dominant aviation environment from fifty years ago. In 1972 though, WASP members managed to receive the veteran’s status. Other remarkable achievements in terms of WASP acknowledgment were the official recognition of the “active duty” for programs administered by the Veterans Administration (1977), the World War II Victory Medal (1984), and the Congressional Gold Medal (2009). They were also inaugurated at the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum (2009).
These are all very big achievements for such a small and short-term organization. It is impressive how the world has changed from seven decades ago, and it is even more impressive how the woman’s position in society has evolved to be as strong as the men’s. Even though the Navy was the first branch of the U.S. Military to welcome female aviators in 1974, it wasn’t until 1993 that the military finally allowed women to fly combat missions. Even if we live in an era where what is available to men is available to women, where gender doesn’t seem to be an obstacle anymore and the trend is perseveringly ascendant with more and more women becoming pilots year after year, in terms of fighter pilots, women make up about 12% of all Navy pilots.
Nevertheless, the WASP vigorously motivated and inspired women of all ages to become aviatrixes. An exceptional example includes aviator Wally Funk who was part of the Mercury 13 program. The Mercury 13 was formed of thirteen American women who successfully underwent the same physiological screening tests as the Mercury Seven astronauts selected by NASA in 1959 for Project Mercury. However, even though the Mercury 13 women were not part of NASA’s astronaut program and never flew in space as part of a NASA mission, this can be considered as the inception of the inclusion of women in the astronaut program since in the 1960s some of these women were among those who lobbied the White House and Congress for this. Wally Funk, aviator and commercial astronaut was the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, one of the firsts female civilian flight instructors, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector. Eventually, Wally Funk did fly into space as part of the suborbital Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceflight in July 2021 and became thus the oldest person to go to space at age 82.
As hard or sometimes impossible it may seem to be, women all over the world are encouraged to make a difference by joining the aviation industry, becoming a pilot and and improving thus the livelihood of millions all over the globe.
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