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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The next morning I showed up at the flight line and had a check ride.

I went out and did fairly well. I didn’t mess up the landing and I followed the check pilot’s instructions without any problems. He didn’t say one word.

I found myself scheduled for another check ride the following day and I thought, “Oh brother!”

The next day I had a check ride and the day after that. For a week solid, every morning began with a check ride. Not once did the check pilot comment on my flying. By the end of the week, I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach, not even water. And I was really upset.

“I am going to get through this,” I told myself. I dug deep inside that well of determination so carefully nurtured by my parents. “I have to do this! I am going to do this!”

I climbed up in that P-19 and flew the socks off that little plane. My check pilot remained silent. But he didn’t wash me out.

When Jacqueline Cochran pinned on my wings, I covered them with my hand and said, “No one is ever going to take them away from me.”

We represented all women. It always bothered me when women expected certain privileges just because they were women. The WASP competed in a man’s world and carved out a place in it for women. We proved that an airplane couldn’t tell the difference between a male and female pilot, only between a good one and a bad one.

But flying was still a man’s world. When I arrived at Avenger Field, male cadets still trained there. We weren’t allowed to talk to them or even recognize them. It seemed like a silly rule, but one I could keep.

On my way to the Post Exchange one dry, dusty afternoon, one of the cadets whistled at me. I turned and gave him a dirty look. About that time, Jackie Cochran spotted me and called me into her office.

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