There were 1102 women who completed the strenuous six month pilot training program at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. These women pilots endured a military type flight training program yet had no military status. Graduating WASP were given assignments to Army Air bases all over the United States and flew over 78 different types of aircraft in missions involving ferrying aircraft, testing aircraft, delivering new aircraft from factories to bases, post maintenance flights, target tows and flights in weather requiring instrument flight rules. The WASP proved that women could fly all types of military aircraft.
In 1944 with the beginning of the return of some male pilot veterans from combat overseas, a bill in Congress for the militarization of the WASP was defeated and the WASP program was disbanded on December 20, 1944. The WASP received no veteran status, and no benefits such as the GI Bill or other educational or medical benefits awarded to all veterans. Women pilots of the WASP were well covered by the media during their existence because they were true pioneers.
American film producer Walt Disney loaned the WASP the design for “Fifinella”, a cartoon lady gremlin, which became the mascot of the WASP. After disbandment, the Order of Fifinella organization was formed for WASP fellowship. After a period of inactivity from 1949 to 1964, the WASP started to formally organize and they started attaining organizational strength each year by finding lost members and having meetings.
After a long battle, the WASP were given military recognition in 1977 and then veteran status in 1979. Meanwhile, in 1973 the Navy opened pilot training to women, and the next year the Army and Coast Guard did the same. In 1976, the Air Force opened pilot training to women and in 1977 women were admitted to Air Force navigator training.
The Order of Fifinella eventually became the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WWII, Inc. (WASP), a closed organization. The members voted in 1978 to remain a closed organization to preserve their unique identity and keep WASP voting interests undiluted by new members.
In March 1978, a small group of WASP formed and incorporated the Women’s Military Pilots Association (WMPA), Inc. in Massachusetts with the idea of creating an organization to include the new women military pilots. This organization consisted at the time of only nine WASP members, including officers Bernice “Bee” Haydu, President, Sara Hayden, Vice President, Elizabeth “Betty” Nicholas, Secretary/Treasurer and Board members Mary “Marty” Wyall and Leoti “DiDi” Deaton. In July, 1980 WMPA officers were elected by the small group and were Sara Hayden, President, Lois Auchterlonie, Vice President, Virginia Williams, Secretary/Treasurer, and Board members Marty Wyall, Leoti Deaton and Bee Haydu. There were about 10 WASP members at the time and the association was inactive.
The second group of women military pilots who founded the Women Military Aviators, Inc. in the beginning was completely separate from WMPA and the WASP. In August 1980 at Williams Air Force Base, AZ Captain Barbara Brumme graduated from pilot training in Class 80-08 and became a T-38 Instructor Pilot. When pilot training in the Air Force opened for women in 1976, only 10 women were accepted into the first class and they were chosen from women already on active duty. The program was called a “test program” and very difficult to get into with such small yearly quotas compared to the 2000 men a year accepted into the same training.
Even though women had been training as pilots in the Navy since 1973, all combat flying jobs were closed to women. Women in the Air Force were only allowed to fly trainer, transport and tanker aircraft. When applying for a Standardization Evaluation job, Capt. Brumme was told, “There already is one woman up there so we don’t need any more.” Even fraternal pilot clubs were still closed to women, despite the fact that women pilots now existed.
One year after graduation, Captain Brumme recruited T-38 Instructor Pilot Captain Karen Daneu and T-37 Instructor Pilot Captain Julie Tizard to work on a survey of all women pilots and navigators in the Air Force to see if there was a possibility of forming a “rated” women’s association. Surveys were sent out on September 7, 1981 to 175 Air Force rated women pilots and navigators and some who were still in training. Questions on the survey included flying equipment and uniform fit or lack of fit in many cases, the acceptance of women in predominately male squadrons and career potential as a rated woman. Other survey questions asked if the rated women would like to belong to an association that simply had goals for the betterment of rated women. Seventy surveys came back with positive results and the organization of these women began. Barb, Karen and Julie started a catalog of applications of rated women along with their answers of the survey. Networking began and it was clear that an organization of rated women was not only wanted, it was necessary. Most of the rated women had common issues and problems.
Through a friend, WASP Sara Hayden received word that the active duty rated women were beginning an organization and wrote a letter dated Nov. 3, 1981 to Captain Barb Brumme and a few days later made the first call. Sara stated that the WASP had an incorporated, tax exempt organization called WMPA made up of 18 WASP members by that time. She stated that the small group of WASP had kept this organization alive in order to give it to the current rated women in the hope that they could help in the future of women in aviation. Sara said, “This call came as a great surprise to Barb. She wondered if 1944 women pilots could know the needs of the 1981 pilots, for example, the possible goals of opening combat aircraft to women, removing quotas, working relationships among rated men and women and join spouse policies.” Calls between Sara and Barb went on for six months until a meeting was planned.
Captains Barb Brumme and Jane Oehme (Logan) flew cross country in a T-38 to Pease AFB, NH for the first meetings in Boston on April 2 and 3, 1982 with WASP Sara Hayden, Lois Auchterlonie, Mildred “Hut” Ferree, Betty Nicholas, Virginia Williams and Esther Berner. Betty Nicholas and Esther Berner had traveled all the way from Indianapolis for this meeting. A close and forever bonding relationship between WASP and current military aviators was born at that meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to welcome the new military pilots and revise and update the bylaws of the incorporated organization of WMPA in order to more properly reflect the goals of the present rated officers who were to have this organization as their own.
On Sept. 2, 1982, Captains Barb Brumme and Karen Daneu flew a T-38 to the WASP convention in Cleveland, Ohio. They were introduced at the banquet and 105 new WASP members joined the new Women’s Military Pilots Association. In October 1982, 86 active duty women pilots and navigators and 126 WASP became the first charter members of WMPA. New bylaws were sent out to the members and the first indications from the membership were gathered about changing the name of the organization to reflect the concerns of women navigators. An election was held and on Dec. 7, 1982 the first active duty elected officers were Capt. Barbara Brumme, President, Captain Karen Daneu, Vice President, Captain Julie Tizard, Secretary, and 1Lt. Margie (Clark) Varuska, Treasurer. Board Members were WASP Lois Auchterlonie, WAFS Adela Scharr and WASP Sara Hayden. A logo designed by Barb was adopted with a woman’s face in the center of pilot wings.
The purpose of the organization was stated in the Certificate of Incorporation as “This corporation is formed to engage in strictly educational, charitable and benevolent purposes, for the prosecution of historical, literary and educational purposes of the corporation and to promote and preserve for historical, educational and literary purposes the role of women pilots and navigators in the service of their country during times of war and peace.” The first convention took place on May 20-22, 1983 in Indianapolis, IN organized by WASP convention chairman Betty Nicholas. After six months of coordination with Air Training Command Headquarters, Barb Brumme flew lead of the first all female T-38 four ship flyby of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 22, 1983. The pilots were Capt. Barb Brumme, 1Lt. Gwen Linde, 1Lt. Olga Custodio, 2Lt. Mimi Crane, Capt. Karen Daneu, 2Lt. Dee Hornbostel, Capt. Jane Logan and 2Lt. Kathi Durst. Women T-38 pilots were so few that they had to be gathered from two bases (Williams AFB and Reese AFB) in order to have 8 pilots.
This was the beginning of one organization of women aviators created in 1982 from two groups, the WASP and new women military pilots and navigators from the 1970s, which has now lasted 33 years. On November 15, 1988 the name was officially changed to the Women Military Aviators, Inc. to include all women military aviators and aircrew! There have been 16 slates of active duty and retired military women who have served as officers and much has been accomplished in all those years.
About the Author – Barbara Brumme, Major, USAFR (Sep)
Barb Brumme is one of the founders of WMA. She was a former USAF and USAFR pilot and is a retired Captain at American Airlines after 27 years.