Treasure of flight memories

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant If only the Lord gives her a little more time to sort it all out. In the meantime, Betty Jane has more pressing matters. She has to fly to Nashville soon to be formally inducted into the Women in Aviation, International Pioneer Hall of Fame. Four women are being honored – two U.S. Air Force generals, a Russian pilot and a civilian pilot named Betty Jane Williams, who grew up in a rural Pennsylvania town during the Depression, constantly bugging her father for flying lessons. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to fly, but there wasn’t much money for that kind of thing during the Depression,” Betty said. “And besides, girls just didn’t do those kinds of things. But the 1940s had arrived and so had war. That changed everything.” The government started a program to teach more civilians to fly, so Betty applied. “I never had a wedding and I’m not about to now, so this is my day,” – Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Betty Jane Williams So little time, so much work still left for Betty Jane Williams. “Dear Lord,” the 86-year-old Woodland Hills woman said Monday, sliding into a chair in her den. “Please don’t take me until I clean up that back room.” The room where the archives of her remarkable life as a pioneering pilot are stacked in boxes and file cabinets. Where she’s stored all the historical treasures she’s promised to leave to the library at Texas Woman’s University. “There were 50 guys and five women from my area accepted,” she said. “Each week, another woman would drop out. We all knew only one woman would probably make it because they needed men for military flight, not women.” Betty Jane was the one woman from her town who made it. She had finally learned to fly, now all she needed was the chance to show the guys what she could do. “Along came Pearl Harbor, and all flying, except for commercial flights, on both coasts was grounded,” she said. Betty Jane had to settle for getting as close to the cockpit as she could without actually flying. She became a stewardess for a few years before becoming a military link training instructor, and joining the WASPs – Women Airforce Service Pilots – on Jan. 1, 1944. It was a period when male pilots were in high demand, fighting over the skies of Europe, that the military brass in this country finally had to wake up and allow female pilots to fly stateside duty. More than 1,000 women like Betty Jane flew aerial target planes – trailing target sleeves behind their aircraft so that ground troops could practice firing live ammunition at a moving target. “What difference did it make if it was a man or woman in the cockpit?” Betty Jane said. “An airplane doesn’t respond to sex – it only responds to skill. “I look at women flying combat aircraft and commercial airliners today, and it makes me feel so proud to have been one of the first to blaze the trail,” she said. After the war, Betty Jane received a direct commission into the Air Force Reserves, and went on to host her own CBS telecast in 1947 in New York called “Let’s Go Flying.” The show was meant to allay the public’s fear of flying and promote the emerging airline industry. After moving to California in 1948, she became a technical writer for North American Aviation in its missile and space industries programs for the next 25 years, while continuing her flying career. There are plenty more honors and commendations in boxes and file cabinets in that back room that Betty Jane needs to get to soon. But this adventure she’s taking next month is at the top of her list. It’s the wedding day she never had. “When I was a stewardess, I had so many proposals I used to keep track of them on a list I taped on the refrigerator,” she laughs. “I always figured why get married when you’re having so much fun? I was so involved with aviation, that was my first love.” After being notified that she was being inducted in the Pioneer Hall of Fame, Betty Jane called her nephew to see if he would walk her down the aisle and up on stage at the awards banquet. Sure, he told her, asking if it was OK if her two grandnephews joined her, too? Of course, Betty Jane said. Who needs a husband on your wedding day when you’re going into the Hall of Fame? Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more