While traveling in Texas last month I visited the USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier permanently anchored in Corpus Christi, TX, that has been designated an historic landmark for its service in World War II.
As I indicated in my previous post about the WASP, I’m interested in continuing to raise consciousness about women and their achievements. This post is similar in that many people may not be aware of women’s service in the U. S. Navy, Air Force and transport services, especially during WWII, coming forward to modern times.
On the USS Lexington, in the self-guided tour of Deck 3, where the Captain’s Quarters are located, one of the exhibits included the donated uniform of Jacqueline Escovar Allen, a former crew member. The description of the exhibit states, “The first women Naval Aviator qualified aboard Lexington in September 1981. The last arrested landing aboard Lexington in March 1991 was made by a woman.” (An arrested landing is one that is caught by the cables on the carrier).
As I have followed links on the Internet to learn more, I have become intrigued by the amount of information available about aviator women, and women in the field of aviation in general. I was surprised to learn about Marilyn Monroe who worked for Radioplane, a drone manufacturing factory before being “discovered”. Marilyn had married James Dougherty who entered the Merchant Marine in 1943.
“While Dougherty served in the Merchant Marine, his wife began working in the Radioplane Munitions Factory, mainly spraying airplane parts with fire retardant and inspecting parachutes. The factory was owned by movie star Reginald Denney. During that time, David Conover of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 1st Motion Picture Unit was sent to the factory by his commanding officer, future U.S. president Captain Ronald Reagan to shoot morale-boosting photographs for Yank, the Army Weekly magazine of young women helping the war effort. He noticed her and snapped a series of photographs, none of which appeared in Yank magazine, although some still claim this to be the case. He encouraged her to apply to The Blue Book Modeling Agency. She signed with the agency and began researching the work of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. ”
As I continued my browsing I found a page related to military women aviator “firsts”. For instance, Patricia Denkler Rainey was the first woman to land a “fleet/combat” A-6 Intruder on an aircraft carrier in August 1982. USN LT Robin Erichsen was the first female to be qualified as a ‘shooter’ on a US Navy aircraft carrier. The ‘shooter’ is the officer responsible for the launching of an aircraft from a carrier. She qualified in 1991 and was then assigned to the USS Lexington and the USS Forrestal. Captain Lee Little, USN (ret) was the first woman commander of an aviation wing. She commanded Training Wing 6 in Pensacola, which provides primary flight training for Naval Flight Officers, Weapons Systems Officers, and International Flight Officers. Lee served on a carrier during the first Gulf War. (Source: http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/firsts4.html)
First Woman Thunderbird Pilot, Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski
Another of the first American women to fly in combat in the ’90s was Lt Col.Martha McSally, ranked as the top female Air Force pilot at that time. Lt Col McSally was among the first women trained by the Air Force as a fighter pilot. During a 1995-96 tour of duty in Kuwait, she became the first woman in military history to fly a combat sortie in a fighter aircraft. She also flew more than 100 combat hours on an A-10 Warthog attack plane over Iraq in the mid-1990s, and served as a flight commander and trainer of combat pilots. (Source: http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/pilots.html) (McSally is a resident of Tucson, AZ and is currently running for Congress from Legislative District 2 in the 2014 elections.)
For information about the first female aviators in the Navy, go to
And there is also a wonderful web site about Women Military Aviators, http://www.womenmilitaryaviators.org/
As I’ve researched the topic of women fliers, it’s become clear that I will be posting a Part 2 to this topic. As a teaser, please see this 2009 article by Kira Cochran of the The Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/03/early-women-aviators.
And please look for Part 2 on my blog Views from the Edge. These women definitely lived and are living on the edge!