Friday, July 24, 2009


If you are not a pilot, but get my tweets and my facebook posts, you've seen me referring often to Oshkosh. Non-pilots usually follow this with, "B'gosh." Oshkosh B'gosh is a children's clothing company. Oshkosh, as it is generally known, is officially EAA AirVenture, which takes place in Oshkosh, WI, every year. Oshkosh is the location of the EAA (or Experimental Aircraft Association) Museum.

From the Oshkosh Convention and Visitor's Bureau: Set your sights on the Air Adventure Museum and travel in to the fascinating world of flight! There's something for every age and interest. Barnstormers. Fighter pilots. "Aces." World record setters. And airplanes that capture aviation's exciting and colorful history. Plus five theaters, photo and art galleries, unique gift shops, audiovisual presentations and more! Nearly 100 rare, unusual and significant airplanes. Named by the state of Wisconsin as a "Wisconsin Treasure."

But this once a year, "World's Greatest Aviation Celebration," which happens the last week of July, is a sight that has to be seen to be believed. "The first gathering was in September 1953 as a small part of the Milwaukee (Wis.) Air Pageant. That original EAA fly-in at Wright-Curtiss (now Timmerman) Field was attended by a handful of airplanes, mostly homebuilt and modified aircraft. Fewer than 150 people registered as visitors. The larger Milwaukee Air Pageant has faded away but the EAA gathering has become the world's premier aviation event." Read how it moved to Oshkosh here. (The text is from these pages.)

"Through the 1970s and '80s, the Convention exploded into national prominence. Attendance jumped into six figures each year and the event became one of sport aviation's top gatherings. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh (as of 1998, the new name for the Fly-In Convention) now serves as one of the world's premier aviation events, attracting top government officials, corporate leaders and hundreds of thousands of aviation enthusiasts. It spans the entire spectrum of aviation and attracts 10,000 airplanes each year. The more than 500,000 aviation enthusiasts who attend the event annually supply the local and state economies with more than a $110-million boost during the week-long event."

"Today, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is an international gathering place for aviation enthusiasts. An AirVenture participant can study the latest aircraft and innovations; discover new ideas and techniques from the nearly 1,000 forums and workshops; see aviation's top personalities; or just talk airplanes with people from around the world. EAA AIRVENTURE OSHKOSH has become important and influential but retains its friendly and personal feel - part of the reason the world comes to Oshkosh every year."

This will be my fourth year at Oshkosh having a Girls With Wings booth to do fundraising for our educational programs and scholarship. It is a busy week, and I would like to say I have all the bugs worked out, but... not hardly. To the left is the 2nd year, where I had all kinds of racks - I know now just to have bins of tees clearly separated by size so that people can find what they need. If not, a lot of the time we could be spending talking to people (everyone has a great story to share) is spent digging around knee deep in "Yes, Girls Can Fly!" Tees. It's still crowded in the booth, but real estate at Osh doesn't come cheap and the price of a double booth is cost prohibitive.

This was also the year that I tried something novel, and had the volunteer workers wearing pilot shirts with epaulets like our mascot, Penelope. It was bad enough that people visiting the booth acted so surprised when women at the GWW booth were actually pilots (many of my friends fly commercially even, so it was fun watching jaws drop when I pointed out that "she flies the Airbus, she flies the 717," etc.), but with the "costume" people treated us like Bud Light Beer Girls! So we're back to just regular shorts and tee shirts. Because, of course, it is hot in Wisconsin in July. In the hangar we at least get some release from the sun, but it can get rather stuffy.

The booth is open from 9-5 monday thru sunday, and I rely on the generosity of volunteers to help me, and my dad - the greatest GWW supporter I know, handle the traffic. I am always exhausted after the week; camping at Camp Scholler in Oshkosh is fun, but not the most restorative sleep. I am really looking forward to a new feature this year, too. All of the aviation nuts, and now friends, that I have made via twitter (I met some of them at Sun n Fun). I would try to list them all, but I might miss one and inadvertently hurt feelings. You KNOW who you are! And if you haven't been to Oshkosh, you really must go, at least once in your lifetime (if "once" is possible). I look forward to it every year. It. Is. Amazing.

And, now, I must shut down the computer and take a shower, finish loading up the car (the trailer's been loaded for days) and hit the road. I have a long drive ahead of me and it is supposed to rain the whole way from Cleveland to Oshkosh. If YOU are going to be at Oshkosh, please stop by Hangar A, Booth 1006 and buy a tee to help support Girls With Wings. Or stick around for a while and hand out brochures and put temporary tattoos on the girls (of all ages, BTW, I got them for the little girls, but the "big" girls like 'em too!). We can use your help!

Ta Ta for now,

Saturday, July 04, 2009

WASP Congressional Medal

With all of the fuss about the AirRace Classic last month and getting ready for Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture) this month, I have been lax blogging about some very VERY big news. I am very fortunate that with all of the women in aviation events, I am often able to interact with some of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (or WASP). They are being remembered on the website: WASP on the WEB:

During World War II, a select group of young women pilots became pioneers, heroes, and role models...They were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. In memory of those we have lost and in honor of those we still cherish... WELCOME TO WASP on the WEB, a site dedicated to sharing the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, and shining a light on the inspirational stories of their lives before, during and after WWII.
"This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and ever weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used." Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942

Have you not heard of the WASP? It's sad, because a lot of people haven't. And the reason you might have just heard of them recently was because they've been in the news a bit. But they weren't always.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and the predecessor groups the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) (from September 10, 1942) were pioneering organizations of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. The female pilots would number thousands, each freeing a male pilot for combat service and duties. The WFTD and WAFS were combined on August 5, 1943 to create the para-military WASP organization.

The WASP women pilots each already had a pilot's license. They were trained to fly "the Army way" by the U.S. Army Air Forces at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. More than 25,000 women applied for WASP service, and less than 1,900 were accepted. After completing months of military flight training, 1,078 of them earned their wings and became the first women in history to fly American military aircraft.

After training, the WASP were stationed at 120 air bases across the U.S. assuming numerous flight-related missions, relieving male pilots for combat duty. They flew sixty million miles of operational flights from aircraft factories to ports of embarkation and military training bases, towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated strafing missions, and transporting cargo. Almost every type of aircraft flown by the USAAF during World War II, including the early U.S. jet aircraft, was also flown by women in these roles. Between September 1942 and December 1944, the WASP delivered 12,650 aircraft of 78 different types. Over fifty percent of the ferrying of combat aircraft within the United States during the war was carried out by WASP, under the leadership of Jacqueline Cochran.

Thirty-eight WASP fliers lost their lives while serving their country during the war. Because they were not considered to be in the military under the existing guidelines, a fallen WASP was sent home at family expense without traditional military honors or note of heroism. The military would not even allow the U.S. flag to be put on fallen WASP pilots coffins.

Those last two sentences just break my heart. In addition, since they weren't considered military veterans, none of them got any benefits from the government after their service. Many found it difficult to get flying jobs after their discharge from military duty (though I understand Delta Airlines offered them STEWARDESS jobs).

Here's something I didn't know: "On June 21, 1944, a bill in the United States House of Representatives to give the WASP military status was narrowly defeated after civilian male pilots lobbied against the idea. As a result, Arnold ordered that the WASP be disbanded by December 20, 1944."

A short explanation of current efforts to publicize the WASP contributions can be found in this online publication from the Wings Across America project that is currently on display at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Wings Across America is a pioneering project, blazing a trail into the future of education, where digital information will explode into learning adventures, and where history will come alive through the colorful and unique eyewitness accounts of surviving WASP of WWII, FIRST WOMEN IN HISTORY TO FLY AMERICA'S MILITARY AIRCRAFT!

In the years after their service, all records of the WASP were classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions to the war effort were little known and inaccessible to historians for many years. In 1975, under the leadership of Col. Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold, the WASP fought the "Battle of Congress" in Washington, D.C., to belatedly obtain recognition as veterans of World War II. They organized as a group again and tried to gain public support for their official recognition. Finally, in 1977, with the important support of Senator Barry Goldwater (having been a ferry pilot himself during the war with the 27th Ferry Squadron), President Jimmy Carter signed legislation #95-202, Section 401, The G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP corps full military status for their service. In 1984, each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal. Those who served for more than one year were also awarded American Theater Ribbon/American Campaign Medal for their service during the war. Many of the medals were received by their sons and daughters on their behalf.

Because of the pioneering and the expertise they demonstrated in successfully flying every type of military aircraft, from the fastest fighters to the heaviest bombers, the WASP had proved conclusively that female pilots, when given the same training as male pilots, were as capable.

The latest news, though, is as follows:

On 1 July 2009 President Barack Obama and the United States Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. Three of the roughly 300 surviving WASPs were on hand to witness the event. During the ceremony President Obama said, "The Women Airforce Service Pilots courageously answered their country's call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave women who have given and continue to give so much in service to this nation since. Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the hard-earned recognition they deserve." To the left in this picture is Bernice (Bee) Haydu, who I was fortunate enough to have met in the Air Race Classic, and to the far right, Nicole Malachowski, the first female Thunderbirds pilot and Girls With Wings role model.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Mikulski introduced Senate Bill 614 on March 12, 2009 and the president signed it into Public Law 111-40 on July 1, 2009. The bill sailed through Congress in a matter of three months, thanks to the grassroots efforts of the many WASP supporters throughout the nation. Here is a link to Public Law 111-40.


Planning for the ceremony is still in the beginning stages. As information becomes available, it will be posted here.

Congressional Gold Medal – There will be one Gold Medal minted by the U.S. Mint. This medal will be on visible at the ceremony, and then will be donated to the Smithsonian Institution for permanent display.

Bronze Medals – Bronze medal replicas of the gold medal will be awarded to each WASP survivor at the ceremony. One family member from each deceased WASP will receive a bronze medal on behalf of the family. Additional duplicate bronze medals will be available for purchase from the Mint, for remaining family members and others interested in the WASPs.

Ceremony Date – The date has not been determined yet. It could be several months before a firm date is set. The U.S. Mint is currently in the process of designing the medal. Once the design is approved, then the U.S. Treasury must actually mint the medal. Due to the advancing age of many surviving WASPS, the ceremony will then be scheduled to ensure as many WASPs as possible will be able to attend.

Ceremony – The ceremony will take place in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, with related events and galas to commemorate the occasion.

The National WASP WWII Museum

Plane PhotoThe National WASP WWII Museum seeks to educate and inspire all generations with the story of the WASP: Women Airforce Service Pilots – the first women to fly American’s military aircraft – women who forever changed the role of women in aviation!

The museum is conveniently located just minutes off Interstate 20 at 210 Loop 170 in Sweetwater, Texas. Pilots flying over Sweetwater can land at Avenger Field – the Sweetwater Airport (SWW). The museum is a short distance away. For assistance with directions or in setting up special tours, call 325.235.0099.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

AirRace Classic Recap

Please allow me just one more post about the AirRace. I referred to the generosity and camaraderie that I saw on the race in earlier posts and just wanted to share more about that with you.

My biggest reason for doing this post is because I intend to become much more involved with the race in years to come. I have been donating items for the silent auction for a while, but I should have had Girls With Wings tracking the teams throughout the races so that we can better celebrate the uniqueness of this annual event. I would also like to see a lot more attention from the general public (and of course the aviation enthusiasts) focused on the annual races. Oh, and I'd also like to run it again! Anyone else need a co-pilot?

As a reminder, the 2009 race was the 80th anniversary of the AirRace Classic, once known as the Powder Puff Derby:

Women’s air racing all started in 1929 with the First Women’s Air Derby. Twenty pilots raced from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, OH, site of the National Air Races. Racing continued through the ‘30’s and was renewed again after WWII when the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR), better known as the Powder Puff Derby, came into being. The AWTAR held its 30th, final and commemorative flight in 1977. When the AWTAR was discontinued, the Air Race Classic, Ltd., (ARC) stepped in to continue the tradition of transcontinental speed competition for women pilots and staged its premier race. The Air Race Classic was reincorporated in 2002 into the Air Race Classic, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. Read more.

I've had difficulty finding other such events by doing a search online (do you know of a similar event?). There are other Air Races, but they are usually short duration flights of high speed performance aircraft. The Women's AirRace visits different cities in different states every year and is a wonderful opportunity to promote not only women in aviation, but also general aviation (privately owned, small aircraft) which is suffering from the state of the economy as well. See GA Serves America. Next year's race will be June 22 - 25, 2010: Fort Myers, FL to Frederick, MD 2157.7 nm/2483.0 sm See a flyer for the race route. This race will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Licensed Women Pilots, 1910-2010. [Did I mention that I think I can clear my calendar?]

Again, I would like to thank the folks that supported the race. See the website for all the info. I can't imagine how much time the volunteer organizers of the race spent arranging for the actual race, where to go, how to get everyone there (and keeping track of those who weren't), making sure that fuel and maintenance support for the airplanes was available, ensuring that there were hotels and restaurants for us to eat, getting the waivers and judges for the flybys, arranging for the handouts, website, awards, plaques, etc., etc. The Colorado 99s put on the majority of the activities at the start, and I thought the briefings to prepare for the race was top notch!

At each stop along the route there were volunteers to do the timing, drive us around town, supply us with snacks, water, etc. And they cheered us on and wished us luck!

In Atlantic, IA, many people from the town came to the Friday night picnic, sponsored racers for Saturday night barbeques, and attended the Sunday night banquet and awards ceremony. The folks even came out to see us launch early monday morning. I overheard a woman asking her son, taking pictures of every airplane, "Now, wasn't this worth getting up early for?" I'd say yes, for the entire 10 day experience. With a year to rest up, I would also say that I would be ready to do it again!