With World War II in its infancy, Jackie Cochran wrote Eleanor Roosevelt to suggest that female pilots be used in the war; she also approached General Hap Arnold, but was dismissed. In 1940, Cochran broke the speed record. General Arnold seeing no abatement to the war and recognizing Jackie's persistence and superior aviation skills sent her to England to study women pilots flying with the Royal Air Force. Cochran returned and was given permission to organize a Woman's Flying Unit; she was appointed its director in 1942. In 1943, Cochran was appointed to the U.S. Army Air Force staff as Director of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Very few women were chosen to be a part of this elite group, though thousands enlisted to join. Out of 25,000 applicants, 1,074 women pilots completed their flight training (Cornelsen). Women in the WASPs had to be no shorter than 5ft 2 ½ in tall, no younger than 18 ½ years old, and have flown no fewer than 200 hours (Pope). Jackie Cochran wanted the WASPs to be trained like the men in the Airforce so once the women made it into the program they had to endure 200 hours of flight lessons and 400 hours of ground school (Fly Girls). Her dedication to making sure these women were trained the same as men and were prepared for all situations made this group of approximately 1000 pilots an elite force. The women test-flew every plane that came off the assembly line, as well as flew planes for target practice. The WASPs flew more than 60 million miles and over 77 different types of military aircrafts for the Airforce (Cornelsen). Thirty-eight of these women gave their lives for their country having never left U.S. air space. Between September 1942 and December 1944, WASPs delivered 12,650 aircraft of 78 different types.Cochran continued to win awards and set records after the war's end. In 1953, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier. From 1959-1963, she was the first female president of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. In the early 1960s, Cochran was involved in efforts to test the ability of women to be astronauts. She retired from the Air Force in 1969, but continued working as a consultant to NASA. Her other achievements include being inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, an unsuccessful (but close) race for the Californian Congress, and over two hundred records.
Carl, Ann B. A WASP Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in World War II. (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999).
Cornelsen, Kathleen. "Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II: Military Aviation, Encountering Discrimination, and Exchanging Traditional Roles in Service to America ." Journal of Women's History, Winter 2005.
Fly Girls. Directed by Laurel Ladevich. By Laurel Ladevich. Performed by Mary McDonnell, Kathy Soucie, and Paul Tibbets. PBS.org. 1999. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/flygirls/filmmore/webcredits.html.men
Kamps, Charles Tustin. "The WASPs." Air & Space Power Journal, (Summer 2013).
Langley, Wanda. Flying Higher: The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. (North Haven, Connecticut: Linnet Books, 2002).
Pope, Victoria. "Flight of the WASP." American Heritage, (Spring 2009).
Primary Sources: Eisenhower Presidential Library
Cochran, Jacqueline, and Maryann Bucknum Brinley. Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1987.WASP Gallery (includes digitized artifacts and primary sources)