Saturday, November 3, 2012

One of the first female pilots talks about WWII

Winter Parker one of first female military pilots
By Brittni Johnson
October 31, 2012

Photo by Isaac Babcock Patricia Erickson shows her Congressional Gold Medal, awarded to her for contributing to the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, volunteering her flying skills to help the World War II efforts.

Being at the controls of a plane thousands of feet above the ground felt as safe as home for Patricia Chadwick Erickson.

For the men who were part of her crew, the experience wasn’t the same. She said they white-knuckled it all the way as she “rocked” her B-25 bomber from take-off to the landing. They weren’t ever sure a woman could do it safely — flying a plane was surely a man’s job.

“A lot of the men didn’t trust us,” Erickson said.

But they learned. Eventually they’d admit, surprised, that she was a good pilot after all. It was 1943, and Erickson was part of the second class of women to learn to fly military aircraft and be a part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. All the children in her family — two brothers and a sister — volunteered along with her.

Erickson, now a 92-year-old Winter Park resident, was one of 25,000 women to apply to be a WASP and one of the 1,074 to successfully complete the grueling program out of 1,879 candidates who were accepted. The WASP members were considered civilians then, and their role was to free up Air Force men for combat military roles. They’d ferry soldiers from military base to military base, test out new planes and engines, fly planes to get repairs and make sure previously broken planes were safe to fly again.
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