Return to MILITARY HONORS _ (Section) Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)
Daring woman and flying machines
By   Dennis McCarthy, Columnist    12 December 2008
Text and images copied here from:
A 1944 photograph of pilot Betty Jane Williams in a P-40 at Randolph Field, Texas.

"An airplane doesn't respond to gender. It only responds to skill." - BETTY JANE WILLIAMS
Former WWII Pilot Betty Jane Williams is being inducted into the 
Women inAviation, International, Hall of Fame.
Betty Jane sat in the den of her Woodland Hills home praying for another couple of years, the last time I saw her.

"Dear Lord, please don't take me until I clean up that back room," the 86-year-old retired Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel was saying.

The Lord listened. He gave Betty Jane almost three more years to clean up that back room filled with her flying service medals and commendations, thousands of black and white photographs and dozens of yellowed newspaper stories of heroism, sadness, joy and memories that could fill a history book.
Betty Jane Williams posed in front of her
"ego wall" in her Woodland Hills residence.

Betty Jane died Monday, and if her afterlife is anything like her life down here for 89 years, she's probably giving free flying lessons to every woman in heaven and then trying to unionize them.

Every A-list female star in Hollywood would kill to play the life of Betty Jane Williams in a movie. She was that fascinating.

She grew up in a rural Pennsylvania town during the Depression, constantly bugging her father for flying lessons he couldn't afford.

"Girls just didn't do those kinds of things," she said. "But the 1940s had arrived, and so had war. Everything changed."

Betty Jane signed up for a civilian pilot program the government had started to include teaching women to fly because men pilots were soon going to be very busy fighting overseas.

"There were maybe 50 guys and five women from my area accepted," she said. "Each week, another woman would drop out until I was the only one left."

Betty Jane had learned to fly. Now all she needed was a chance to get in the cockpit. Along came Pearl Harbor.

The Air Force began the WASPs - Women Airforce Service Pilots - and Betty was one of the first to join. Her first job was flying combat-weary planes to repair depots.

"We also served as aerial target practice, flying target sleeves behind the plane so ground troops could practice firing live ammunition at a moving target," Betty Jane said. "A couple of times they almost blew me out of the sky."

As the war wound down and male pilots returned home, the WASPs were disbanded and forgotten. Betty Jane spent the next 25 years working for Lockheed and as a flight instructor.

It took 34 years for Congress to pass legislation recognizing the WASPs' service to the country and granting them veteran status.

"I look at women flying combat aircraft and commercial airliners today, and it makes me proud to be there at the beginning," said Betty Jane, who never married because no man could compete with an airplane.

All those memories and medals she needed a couple of more years to tidy up in her back room will be donated to the library at Texas Woman's University, including her award for being inducted into the Women in Aviation, International Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2006.

"My great-great-aunt was an incredible woman, a true pioneer," says Skip Williams, her great nephew who is helping set up a memorial service in January for her.

That she was. Betty Jane Williams taught the country that an airplane doesn't respond to gender, it responds to skill.

Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday., 818-713-3749