WASP make weather history

  • Published
  • By Gerald White
  • Air Force Weather Agency history office
Women's roles in the military may not have started at Offutt, but the Air Force Weather Agency was here when women stepped forward to serve their country.

The Air Weather Service was one of the first military agencies to use military women as pilots during World War II.

In early 1943, the first enlisted Women's Army Corps women were assigned to stateside weather units and qualified as observers through on-the-job training. One class of women observers went through the forecasting school at Chanute Field, Ill. Five graduated in September 1944.

A few women were trained as meteorological officers by the Weather Bureau and Navy, but there were none in the Army Air Forces because WAC officers were only assigned to administrative duty. Perhaps the least known group of women in weather was a group of 15 Women's Airforce Service Pilots assigned to the Weather Wing between Nov. 26, 1943, and Dec. 20, 1944.

There were two groups of World War II female pilots that made up the WASP. The first was organized in 1942 by Nancy Harkness Love and consisted of women who already had significant flying time and experience. This group of 28 women delivered aircraft for the AAF Ferry Command, later part of Air Transport Command.

Since that group was quite small, another source was needed. Gen. Hap Arnold brought in Jacqueline Cochran, a renowned and skilled woman aviator, to organize a training school. The school, initially located near Houston before moving to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, used the same instructors and equipment as the other contract schools providing pilots for the AAF. The students were selected from women who had private licenses or had completed the pre-war Civilian Pilot Training program offered at many colleges by the Civil Aviation Board.

The first class reported Nov. 12, 1942, and completed a course of ground school and flight instruction similar to the men's training at the time, except for gunnery and close formation training. Early classes were 23 weeks with 115 flying hours, later lengthened to 30 weeks with 210 flying hours. Graduates were then hired as civil service employees and paid $250 per month plus $52.36 overtime for the normal forty-eight hour workweek. All weather WASP came from the Avenger Field program.

In 1943, then-Col. (later Lt. Gen.) Oscar Senter was the Weather Wing Commander. He notified his stateside weather units that the critical shortage of combat pilots had opened positions in the Weather Wing for adequately trained WASP.

WASP flew mostly training and utility aircraft in an administrative support role, such as flying inspection teams to bases and moving people and equipment between various weather units. Some weather WASP also qualified in various fighters and bombers. Others performed administrative and secretarial duties when not flying, though that was not required.

Their service through Dec. 20, 1944, when the program was deactivated, was free of accidents. During their 13 months of service, only one pilot was grounded for two months from injuries received in a crash.

In a report on their service compiled in early 1945, all the WASP received high marks from senior weather leadership, and many received specific mention of their flying skills. The heritage of WASP in the Air Weather Service history continued with many more heroic examples of women who pushed the limitations of service.

Women in the Air Weather Service, like others in the Air Force, had limited opportunities until restrictions on their service were lifted, starting in the 1970s. When the doors of opportunity finally did open, the women joining the Air Force had a heritage of service to build on, established in part by the pioneers of Air Force Weather. (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)