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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Air Force (incl WAF, WASP, Nurse Corps)

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The Air Force branch includes women who served in the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), the Women in the Air Force (WAF), the U.S. Air Force, and the Air Force Nurse Corps.

On 5 August 1943, the Women’s Flying Training Detachment and the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The WASP trained in Sweetwater, Texas, and flew bombers, pursuit planes, and jet planes. They ferried aircraft, towed targets for ammunition practice, and trained pilots. WASPs never had military status and the program disbanded in December 1944. However, the Women in the Air Force (WAF) was established in 1948 as an integrated part of the U.S. Air Force. Many of the first 1,500 members had been on duty as Air WACs, members of the Women’s Army Corps serving in the Army Air Forces. In 1949, the Air Force was the first branch to integrate Officer Candidate School. The Air Force Nurse Corps was also established in 1949.

About 13,000 WAF served at home and abroad during the Korean War. They held positions in many aviation specialties, including dispatch, weather observation, and mechanics. Nurses proved critical for aeromedical evacuation, and by 1953, they had helped evacuate approximately 350,000 patients. By the end of the Vietnam War, between 500 and 600 WAFs had served in Vietnam and Thailand. The majority of these women were flight nurses, but WAF were also assigned to roles in administration, personnel, and intelligence.

Female roles in the air force expanded in 1973 with the creation of an all-volunteer force. Women could participate in air force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) programs in 1969, in pilot training programs in 1976, and were accepted at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1976. By 1989, there were 77,000 women in the air force and 97 percent of jobs were open to them. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991, air force women flew jet tankers over Iraq and repaired combat aircraft in Saudi Arabia among other jobs. As of September 2007, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 64,500 women were serving, comprising almost 20% of the entire air force.