Learning to Fly: 5 Lessons from the Women of WWII
Learning to Fly: 5 Lessons from the Women of WWII
“I believe in strong women. I believe in the woman who is able to stand up for herself. I believe in the woman who doesn’t need to hide behind her husband’s back. I believe that if you have problems, as a woman you deal with them, you don’t play victim, you don’t make yourself look pitiful, you don’t point fingers. You stand and you deal. You face the world with a head held high and you carry the universe in your heart.”
― C. JoyBell C.
WWII taught us much. From it, we learned the power of the infinitesimal, how splitting an atom could change the world. We discovered just how far humankind could fall, and what happens when an entire world goes to war. We learned about power, the power of a corrupt dictator, the power of atomic weapons, and, rather unexpectedly, the power of the American woman. In an era where women were grossly underestimated, the war forced the country to recognize that women are, and have been since Eve, an unstoppable force for good. There were many heroes in WWII, but today we honor the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), an all-female group of pilots who joined the fight against Hitler and showed the world what it means to be a strong woman.
From their service, we’ve learned 5 main principles:
See A Need, Fill A Need
“Jackie” Cochran didn’t start as the leader of a seminal group of women pilots. The role didn’t even exist until she saw a need and did something about it. The air force needed pilots, and aspiring female pilots were desperate for the chance to do what they loved. Cochran seized this opportunity. She wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt suggesting that previously trained female pilots could fly “non-combat” jobs that included shuttling aircraft, freeing up other pilots for combat. (1)
This one action, combined with her dogged persistence, eventually led to the creation of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots program and to Cochran’s appointment as its leader.
The Lesson: Recognize the kairotic and act – “Kairos (pronounced “KAI-ros”) in Ancient Greek meant “time” – but it wasn’t just any time. It was exactly the right time to say or do a particular thing.”(2) Whether it’s a position, a product, a service, if the opening isn’t there, but the opportunity is, make it happen!
Cooperate and Collaborate
The WASPs organization was born of healthy competition, but it didn’t become the influential organization we know today until powerful women joined forces. Jackie wasn’t the only pilot who pushed for the opportunity to lead an all-female group of air force pilots. In August of 1943, two years after Cochran was sent by General “Hap” Arnold to study Britain’s successful implementation of a group of non-combat women’s pilots,(3) Nancy Love, an air transport command employee, began an organization called the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Two months later, Cochran returned to start the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, (Woof teddies for short). Eventually, the two groups were combined to become the WASP organization, an organization that “blazed the trail for today’s female pilots of the US Air Force”(4)
The Lesson: Collaboration is powerful. Working together to find win-win situations enables us to accomplish the unbelievable.
Work for A Cause
The women of WWII were determined not only to accomplish their goals, but to make the world better in the process. Though “their pay was less than that of a second lieutenant”(5) and they weren’t even official members of the military, their service demonstrates an awareness of the bigger picture. As Simon Sinek, would say they “started with why” and it drove them to do incredible things: to push for women’s rights, to fight for their country, and to win a war against intolerance and hate.
The Lesson: There’s always a bigger picture. Your contribution matters more than you know. And, while money is certainly a factor in your business, happiness and purpose are far more valuable currencies. Cultivate them!
Do What It Takes
Becoming a WASP wasn’t easy. The requirements to become one were stringent, even more rigorous than the requirements for male pilots. Previous flight experience was necessary, as were a certain number of flight hours.(6) But candidates did what it took to make it happen. Catherine Veil Bridge, was already a licensed pilot when she heard about Cochran’s idea. The WASPs weren’t yet officially established, but Bridge was determined to find a way into the program. She became Cochran’s personal secretary, a position that, while it wasn’t her dream job, eventually enabled her to reach her end goal.(7)
When Betty Guild Blake, another WASP, needed to learn how to fly a new type of aircraft, Photorecon online magazine reports, “She went and got the flight manual for that particular aircraft, read through it, and when she was comfortable with the info, strapped in, started the engine, and took off.”(8)
The Lesson: Figure out what you want, what you’re passionate about and do everything in your power to make it happen: even if it seems below you, even if it requires extra study, extra work, and extra effort.
It’s Not About Who Gets the Credit, It’s About What Gets Done.
Though they flew important missions for the air force, and 38 even died in the line of duty, the women of the WASPS were still considered civilians when the WASP program was dissolved in 1944. Because of this, they got no military benefits until 1977, when they “received credit” for their service and were recognized as full military members.(9)(10) (11)
The Lesson: forget prestige and go to work. Your skills will speak for themselves.
We’d love to hear from you! What principles have you learned from the strong women and men in your life?
(1) (Remembering the WASPS, May 1995 Saturday Evening Post).
(3) (Remembering the WASPS, May 1995 Saturday Evening Post) ]
(4) (The WASPS, Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2003).
(5) (The WASPs, Air and Space Power Journal, Summer 2003)
(6) (Veteran of the Day, Vantage Point, November 2016).
(7) (Honolulu Star Advertiser, April 2014)
(8) The WASPS, Air and Space Power Journal, Summer 2003)
(10) (Remembering the WASPS, May 1995 Saturday Evening Post)