We Represented All Women

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

Vi Cowden during her service with the WASPs in the 1940s. (Courtesy Jonna Hoppes)

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It was an old airplane, a twin engine with a big tail wheel. The wind blew so hard that the tail kept whipping around and it took all my strength—arms and legs and everything—to hold her steady just to taxi onto the runway. As we rolled into take-off position, he shut down one engine, forcing a single engine procedure on take-off. I feathered the one engine and upped the power on the other side. It took some doing, but I got her airborne on the first try.

“Let me shoot a landing,” he said.

I relinquished the controls. He made a good landing.

“Now you do it,” he told me.

Well, I really greased the plane on my landing [made a perfect landing]. I nursed my anger and tapped a strength that came from that well deep inside me.

“OK, shoot another one.”

So I did. I could have flown a bathtub that day, and I think he knew it.

“Let’s go back to the field,” he said.

We went back to the field and check pilot Williams pulled him aside. I could tell Williams was angry and hoped he wouldn’t cause a scene.

“Well, how’d she do?” Williams asked, a little pulse beating in his cheek betraying his anger.

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