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EAA exhibit to honor women who broke ground as military pilots

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An upcoming exhibit at Oshkosh’s EAA Aviation Museum will honor a group of women who broke important new ground by taking to the skies for their country.

The museum next week will open an exhibit on the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, who flew essential missions during World War II. A ribbon cutting for the exhibit will take  place on Tuesday, March 10, at 10 a.m. in the Eagle Hangar’s Telling Gallery.

The WASP pilots were the first women to fly military aircraft, taking aircraft from manufacturing plants to airfields in the U.S. and overseas, towing aerial targets, transporting cargo, and other missions not in combat areas. 

Women were prohibited from combat duty at that time. 

More than 1,100 women were accepted into the WASP program in 1943 and 1944, and 38 of them died while in service to their country.

“The story of the WASPs, while covering a very brief period of history, was enormously important as an example of women contributing as pilots and in military operations in an era where that was discouraged,” said Ron Connolly, EAA Aviation Museum director. “As we observe Women’s History Month, it’s appropriate to shine the spotlight on what these women did, the risks they took, and the legacy they left in aviation.”

After the WASP program was disbanded in late 1944, it took more than 30 years for women to begin flying military missions once again. Today, women are pilots in all branches of the U.S. military, including in combat areas around the world.

The exhibit, open through early 2021, will include photos, displays, and artifacts from WASP members, including some from Wisconsin. It tells the story of the WASP founding in 1943, the training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, and the long effort to have the group recognized as veterans for their service and sacrifice. Fewer than 30 of the WASP pilots are still alive today, more than 75 years after their historic achievements.

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