Burnet air show salutes women who took to the air for coun­try

WWII-era pi­lot, 96, on hand to pro­mote women in avi­a­tion.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Maria Men­dez

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.

PHOTOS BY AMANDA VOISARD / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

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.

AMANDA VOISARD / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Rosie Sil­ver, 7, plays in rain pud­dles Satur­day dur­ing the Blue­bon­net Air Show at Burnet Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port.

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