Today we sat down with Naomi Wadsworth, call sign Sweet Pea, to learn more about the W.A.S.P.S- Women Air Service Pilots- who served during WWII. Sweet Pea is a pilot and member of Alpha’s corporate philanthropy The Warrior Flight Team.
AI: What were the WASPs and why were they necessary?
SP: WASPS, or Women Air Service Pilots, were civilian female pilots that flew airplanes for the U.S. military during WWII. They were formed in 1942, and disbanded a few years later as WWII came to a close. Their service freed up more male service members to serve in combat roles, effectively giving the U.S. military more pilots.
AI: What was their primary role?
SP: Their primary role was ferrying aircraft to and from various locations, such as aircraft factories to training sites or points of embarkation to active combat zones. They also towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated missions, and transported cargo. Women in these roles flew almost every type of aircraft flown by the USAAF (US Army Air Force- the predecessor to the modern-day Air Force) during World War II. In addition, a few exceptionally qualified women were allowed to test and pilot rocket- and jet- propelled planes, and work with radar-contolled targets. Between 1942 and 1944, the WASPs delivered 12,650 aircraft of 78 different types.
AI: What was the role of women in the military at the time?
SP: Up to this point, women involved in the military were primarily nurses or served in a clerical role. WASPs, although still technically civilians, proved that there were more active ways women could serve in the military. This is similar to the way many women took over men’s jobs in factories and defense plants during WWII as more and more men joined the military.
AI: Can you tell us more about who made up the WASPs?
SP: Out of the 25,000 women who applied, only 1,074 were selected. All those selected had their commercial pilot’s license (itself something out of the ordinary for the time period) and had prior aviation experience, with an average of 1,400 flying hours. The majority were Caucasian, however there were two Mexican Americans, two Chinese Americans, and one Native American women serving as well. Altogether, the WASPs flew more than 60 million miles during their service.
AI: What happened to the WASPs when the war ended?
SP: The WASPs were disbanded near the close of the war. Yes. Almost all of them went back to the traditional roles that women held at the time. Some continued as commercial pilots, and a few did join military ( , the only Native American WASP, went on to join the Air Force).
By the end of the war, thirty-eight WASPs had lost their lives, either in training accidents or accidents during active duty.
Records pertaining to the WASPs were classified and sealed for 35 years, so few people knew about their contributions to the war effort. In 1975, legislation was introduced to have the WASPs recognized as veterans, which they eventually were in 1977.
AI: What influence did they have on you/ your development as a pilot?
SP: I know that they helped open the door for me. They proved that women can fly and do it well.