- Ladies of LockbourneWomen Airforce Service Pilots and the Mighty B-17 Flying Fortress
Two articles from the Columbus Dispatch exemplify the ongoing debate about women in the military: “Women not right for all combat roles, Marines say”1 and “Famous flyer says women have place in flying—but not in combat plane.”2 While the direct link between the two is women in combat, the underlying theme is the question of what role women should play in America’s armed forces. When you take into consideration that these articles were written seventy-four years apart, it becomes all the more clear that as a society, women in the military continue to be a topic of debate. The first article appeared on Sunday, September 20, 2015, and relates to the shift in policy allowing women greater access to battlefield positions, especially following the successful completion of two women from the army’s Ranger program in August of that year. The second article appeared on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Sunday paper printed prior to the attack at Pearl Harbor, and this article discussed in a more generalized nature the rise in female pilots and how they might be useful for ferrying planes to bases, but lacked the physical and emotional strength to fly combat missions or complete heavy transport operations.
Just as Ranger graduates Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver proved naysayers wrong in 2015, the members of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots [End Page 5] (WASPs), a group of female pilots during World War II, proved that women were capable of flying all manner of planes, including heavy four-engine B-17 bombers. The formation of the WASPs in late 1942 represented the culmination of separate efforts by Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran with the support of Henry “Hap” Arnold, Nancy Harkness Love, and various members of the Air Transport Command. The goal of both Cochran and Love was to create a group of women pilots capable of ferrying and testing military planes to free up men for the war effort. Just like the women who found jobs in factories, as epitomized by Rosie the Riveter, the WASPs sought to lend a patriotic hand in a field dominated by men, all the while proving their ability against detractors from the American public to their military bosses. Building off the public successes of pilots like Amelia Earhart and Jackie Cochran, a pilot even more accomplished than Earhart, women took advantage of the growing interest in aviation. This study will argue that the WASPs not only played an integral role in the World War II home front by assisting the Army Air Forces in multiple ways—thus freeing men for combat purposes, all the while facing opposition from numerous sources while trying to do their part—but were also assigned to B-17 training at Lockbourne Army Airfield in central Ohio, contributing to the war effort by engaging in work that many thought women were unable to handle.
Primary sources vary widely in the amount of information available. Media sources provide information about the program and the social response to women in the war effort, from articles in national media like the New York Times and TIME, to local outlets like the Columbus Dispatch. These stories are limited, however, because they are dependent on the release of information by the WASPs and their Army directors, which, as will be discussed later in this study, did not always take place.3 Reports from the military, which are now easily available from several archives across the country,4 provide an excellent account of the WASP program and the military perspective about the women involved. Each base completed an official history of the women stationed at their bases, and comprehensive histories about the entire program include interviews with base personnel. While the major histories are widely cited in the existing WASP scholarship, the local histories have largely been ignored, [End Page 6] especially the Lockbourne base history, which is referenced throughout this study. Additionally, many WASPs have provided oral histories, including two of the Lockbourne graduates.
Beyond just a history about women, this research will show the role and...