We Represented All Women- page 12 | History | Air & Space Magazine
Vi Cowden during her service with the WASPs in the 1940s. (Courtesy Jonna Hoppes)

We Represented All Women

During World War II, WASPs proved that an airplane couldn’t tell the difference between a male and female pilot.

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(Continued from page 11)

He looked at me. “I’ve never flown with a woman before. I just knew I couldn’t let you go. I would feel responsible if something happened to you.”

“Well, look,” I said, realizing that I had nothing to lose. “I’m here. I’m volunteering. And if I am stupid enough to make a mistake, it’s not your fault. It’s mine.”

“Well,” he said after a moment of silent contemplation, “you can fly again tomorrow.”

He was really surprised that I could fly. It never occurred to him that a woman would be able to fly a pursuit plane.

And that’s exactly what I did! My orders would have me taking a P-51 from Dallas, Texas, to Long Beach, California. In Long Beach, I would pick up a different plane and fly to Newark, New Jersey. Or we’d fly to Wichita, Kansas, to pick up a Bamboo Bomber. We’d kick the tires and if the wings didn’t fall off, we’d climb in. Once you got your orders, you checked out an airplane. I mean, what you really did was buy that airplane. It was yours. If you had to stop halfway to your delivery point, you sent a message back to the base so they would know where that airplane was and where you were.

One night I sent a message that said, “Delivered a P-51. Mother and plane doing fine.” The guy reading the messages at about four o’clock that morning got a kick out of it.

I was an eager beaver and would happily pass on my seven-dollar per diem and sleep overnight on an airliner so I could start another round of deliveries the next morning. The WASP had very high priority with the airlines. Only the presidential party could bump us. One time, I kept track of my meals: I didn’t eat two meals in the same state for three days.

I only experienced one close call. I flew from Dallas to Long Beach. I called in for my landing instructions and the tower called back.

“You’re on fire. You need to circle the field and we’ll clear the area for your landing.”

I couldn’t see the fire, but I circled as instructed, and set the plane down on the runway. My training taught me to evacuate as soon as possible, so I grabbed the plane’s papers, my sock full of make-up and scrambled out. I stood there about 10 feet away from my plane—its locked wheel on fire, spewing smoke from the friction—with my ship’s papers in one hand and my sock of make-up in the other. “Oh, my gosh!” I thought to myself. “I’m such a girl!”

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