Burnet air show salutes women who took to the air for country
WWII-era pilot, 96, on hand to promote women in aviation.
After months of flying training airplanes in Sweetwater, just outside Abilene, Mildred Jane Doyle became one of 1,074 aviators to serve as U.S. Women Air Service Pilots in May 1944.
“At the time I didn’t think much of it; we were just training, flying and working on airplanes,” Doyle said. “We didn’t think of ourselves as pioneers, but people say we opened the way for all the women pilots to get into different fields of aviation.”
Doyle, now 96 and one of 51 living WASPs, returned to Texas on Saturday with her original training plane, “Nella,” to promote women in aviation at the Bluebonnet Air Show at the Burnet Municipal Airport.
“She’s livinghistory,” said Kathy Quinlan, a member of the High- land Lakes Squadron putting on the air show. “I’ve been learning about her, and she’s amazing.”
Doyle, a Michigan native, used her WASP training to fly twin-en-
gine airplanes and conducted aircraft maintenance checks in Seymour, Ind.
“There aren’t that many WASPs left, and they’re a precious gem,” Quinlan said. “They were the first women to fly military aircraft. They weren’t allowed to fly combat planes, but they were instructors and test pilots.”
But in 1944, WASPs were disbanded without veteran status, and the stories of women like Doyle were largely forgotten until they were honored by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
“They were not recognized for so long, and they did so much for the military and for women in aviation, so it’s important to honor them while they’re still alive,” Quinlan said.
The WASPs were given the right to be buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in 2002, and Doyle received a Congressional Gold Medal along with 300 other WASPs in 2010.
“I’ve been talking to people about us lately because nobody really knew who we were for many years,” Doyle said. “But it’s sort of inspired some girls to go into aviation.”
Now, WASPs like Doyle have become icons for the slowly growing number of female pilots like 66-yearold Becky Smith, who did not get her pilot license until she was 55.
“Jane (Doyle) paved the way for people like me to get my pilot license,” Smith said. “I always wanted to fly, but I was told girls couldn’t fly. Now, it’s no big deal for a girl to want to pilot.”
Devyn Collie, the Austin chairwoman of the Ninety-Nines — an international organization of female pilots whose first president was Amelia Earhart — was always encouraged to fly by her father, who also is a pilot. But she finds inspiration in the WASPs.
“They’re my heroes,” Collie said. “They had to deal with flight suits that weren’t made for women and instructors that had only taught male pilots, so they had to learn everything kind of on the fly.”
This was the first year the Bluebonnet Air Show focused on women, who continue to be underrepresented in aviation. The Federal Aviation Administration reported that only 7 percent of U.S. pilots were women in 2017.
U.S. Air Force pilot Cynthia Johnston said the biggest obstacle for girls to become pilots is the lack of exposure.
“I think the biggest challenge is they’re just not exposed to flying as much as everyone else is, but the plane doesn’t care if you’re a boy or a girl,” she said.
With the Air Force short of at least 1,200 pilots, Johnston said the service has a lot of room for female pilots.
Doyle said girls today have even more options to reach the sky. “It’s good to see there’s so many women in aviation, even in combat or as astronauts,” she said.
Mildred Jane Doyle, 96, a member of the World War II-era U.S, Women Air Service Pilots, or WASPs, greets 2-year-old Carson Miller during the Bluebonnet Air Show in Burnet on Saturday. Doyle, who is known as Jane, was a featured guest of the “Ladies in Aviation” show.
Samantha Torgerson, 2, checks out the planes at the Bluebonnet Air Show, which was Saturday at Burnet Municipal Airport. The FAA says only 7 percent of pilots in the U.S. are women.
Rosie Silver, 7, plays in rain puddles Saturday during the Bluebonnet Air Show at Burnet Municipal Airport.