Utah WASP only female member of state aviation Hall of Fame

Utah WASP only female member of state aviation Hall of Fame

On Sept. 10, 1942, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron was activated to support the Army Air Forces with Nancy Harkness Love (1914-1976) as the commander. This was a small group of women pilots serving noncombat missions. They would ferry planes to Army Air Forces stations affording the service the ability to deploy more men to combat and still get planes and related equipment delivered to the necessary training and maintenance sites.

During World War II, many women worked in occupations that had been occupied by men during peacetime. The women proved to be very successful in their duty. America produced a large number of new military aircraft for World War II, more than twice as many as had been produced since the Wright brothers' first flight in 1903. As a result, a large number of pilots were needed just to ferry finished planes from the factories to the training stations, ports of embarkation, and maintenance depots such as the one here. A lot of these pilots and other aircrew also came from a Women's Flying Training Detachment commanded by Col. Jackie Cochran. She trained mature, educated women with some flying experience and turned them into elite military pilots. As more women joined the flying service, their work became widely recognized and they felt worthy to be considered as members of the nation's military.

In an attempt to militarize the WAFS and the WFTD, the two groups were combined into one named the Women's Airforce Service Pilots under Cochran's command. This took place in August of 1943. About 25,000 women applied for this program; only 1,800 were accepted, of which 1,074 graduated. One of Utah's own, Alberta Hunt Nicholson, was among the 1,074 graduates. She learned to fly in Salt Lake City before applying for the WASPs. After attending a seven-month training course, the graduates were ready to report for duty. Some of their duties included instructing new pilots, testing airplanes following overhaul, simulating attacks on ground targets and towing targets for aerial gunnery training. Although these were noncombat missions, they frequently proved to be very dangerous and some of the female pilots were killed or injured during their service.

Even with the fatalities, many unprecedented and proud accomplishments were achieved. For instance, a pilot by the name of Barbara Erickson received the Air Medal for Meritorious Achievement after completing four aircraft deliveries, flying 8,000 miles in just a little more than five days. All together the WASPs totalled 60 million miles flying aircraft for the nation's military. To commemorate their achievments, a marble monument was built in Sweetwater, Texas, to recognize the women who had earned their wings at Avenger Field. Alberta Hunt Nicholson was among the young women on this list. As the war in Europe ended, the male pilots lobbied to retrieve jobs that the WASPs were performing. As a result, on Dec. 20, 1944, the WASPs were de-activated, without having been formally recognized as a part of the military. They were finally awarded military rights in 1977, more than 30 years later.

The de-activation of the WASPs did not stop Nicholson from flying. She was an aviator for life and loved her air time. Entirely of her own accord she quit flying at the age of 78. That was after she failed to pass her driver's license eye exam, realizing she would probably not be able to pass her aviation physical. In 2001, at the age of 87, she was inducted into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame. She is the first, and so far, only woman to be a member of this prestigious group.

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