September 30, 2016

The Role of Women Pilots in WWII

[Activity: Experiment to see how stealth planes hide]

By Carmella Van Vleet  (Our guest blogger extraordinaire!)
Elaine Harmon
Last month, World War II pilot Elaine Harmon was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. This was a special event, one that Elaine’s family worked and fought hard to see happen for many years. Even though many women are already buried in Arlington, up until recently, Elaine and other women like her weren’t allowed there even though they played a crucial role in the second World War.

Elaine Harmon was a WASP, or a member of the Women Air Force Service Pilots. The WASPs were female pilots who flew planes in a non-combat capacity during WWII. Not only did they fly supplies and deliver aircrafts to military bases, but they helped train other pilots and tested aircraft. Their efforts meant that male pilots were freed up to fly combat missions.

These women pilots were highly trained and the work was often dangerous  - the enemy couldn’t tell and didn’t care who was flying an airplane. Thirty-eight of them were killed during the war. And yet, they were considered civilians and therefor didn’t qualify for a military burial in Arlington.

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The WASPs were largely the result of efforts of two women: Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love. When the war broke out, Cochran, a star pilot with speed and altitude records in America, wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt and suggested female pilots could help in the efforts. Lady Eleanor agreed and so Cochran began training female pilots in Great Britain. She later returned to America to train women. In the meantime, Love (a race and test pilot) formed the Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. The two groups of women joined together in 1943 and became WASP.

Kristin Wolfe in front of Raptor (credit: Kristin Wolfe)
Because of women like Cochran, Love, and Harmon, girls today can grow up dreaming about being a pilot or flying in the military.

I wrote about one of these young women in my new book, AVIATION: COOL WOMEN WHO FLY (Nomad Press). Her name is Kristin Wolfe. Kristin is a 27-year-old Air Force pilot who grew up in a military family but didn’t decide she wanted to serve until she was college. After her dad encouraged her to join the  AFROTC (Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp.), Kristin enlisted and began training to become a pilot.

The training to become an Air Force fighter pilot is extremely competitive. There were only 25 students in Kristin’s class. And only a couple of them were women! But Kristin excelled and was given the opportunity to fly the F-22 Raptor, the fastest and one of the most technologically impressive stealth aircrafts in the world.

Activity: Experiment to see how stealth planes hide 

Here’s a simple way to see how much harder it is for radar to find a stealth plane. First, have a friend hold a piece of paper perpendicular in relationship to the floor. Have the friend stand at one send of a dark hall or room and then turn off the lights. Move a flashlight around until you find the piece of paper. Next, have your friend turn the piece of paper so that it’s parallel to the floor. Which is harder to find, the flat surface of the piece of paper or the edge of the piece of paper?

Carmella Van Vleet, co-author with astronaut Kathy Sullivan of TO THE STARS! (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2016), author of AVIATION: COOL WOMEN WHO FLY (Nomad Press, 2016) and ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House, 2014) *a Junior Library Guild selection and 2015 Christopher Award winner* 

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