Attrition: Womens Work


September 26, 2008:  The U.S. Air Force recently supplied two, all female, transport crews (one for a C-17 and one for a C-130) to support a WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilots) reunion. WASP was a World War II organization of female contract pilots. There being a shortage of male pilots back then, and the air force not willing to let female pilots serve in uniform, the women were hired as civilian contractors. The 1,800 WASP pilots flew transports, delivered combat aircraft within the United States, piloted aircraft that towed aerial targets and performed any other flying chores the air force didn't have male pilots available for. 

It wasn't until 1977 that a law was passed recognizing WASPs are military veterans. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. military began to allow women to be military pilots. But before the 1990s, the majority of female combat pilots were those who flew for the Russian air force during World War II. Russia had thousands of women flying warplanes back then, and several of them became aces. Most of the women flew combat support aircraft, partly because many of the warplanes back then did not have power-assisted controls, and required a lot of physical strength, especially in combat. But where this was not a factor, many of the Russian female pilots demonstrated a talent for winning air-to-air battles.

Russia stopped using female pilots when the war was over. The same thing had happened during World War I, when the few female pilots were dismissed once peace came. This did not change until the 1970s, and since then many nations, even Moslem ones, have recruited female military pilots. Israel accepted its first female fighter pilot in 2001, after allowing women to be military flight instructors for years.

Today, nearly 20 percent of airmen are female (both male and female air force troops are called "airmen.") That's over 63,000 women wearing air force blue. But over half (56 percent) of them are officers, and about three percent of them are air crew (585 female pilots, 231 navigators, and 147 battle managers). There are only 300 WASPs left, and about half of them are able to attend the annual reunions. The air force has no trouble getting female pilots to volunteer to provide some support to the reunions.

Currently, over a dozen air forces have female combat pilots, and many more have women flying helicopters and transports. The main reason is a shortage of qualified men, Many women have the talent, and air forces find they provide needed, and often more skilled, pilots.



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