Starting in January of 1942, Wonder Woman took to the skies in her Invisible Plane. Nine months later, nonfictional superheroines took flight. Sadly, it was their story rather than their aircraft which soon became invisible.
On September 10, 1942, Nancy Harkness Love recruited over two dozen female pilots to form the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) out of New Castle Army Air Base in Delaware.
These daring aviators were already veterans of the air, but could only fly non-combat missions — moving planes between factories and Army Air Force stations — and even had to buy their own uniforms. Any flight is dangerous in wartime, and the WAFS program was arduous and occasionally fatal; yet over a thousand women completed flight training as a result.
The WAFS were so successful the program was rebranded as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Despite being considered a Civil Service employee rather than an active soldier, Seattleite Barbara “BJ” Erickson was awarded the Air Medal for Meritorious Achievement as a Pilot, the only woman so honored in World War II. She was 24.
In 2010, three years before her death, Erickson’s story finally re-emerged and she received a Congressional Gold Medal, one of two highest awards for American civilians.
Local writers Tamara Keeton (who knew Erickson) and Katherine Kelly adapted their screenplay about the WAFS into a play, a fundraiser for Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater, which stars (among others) Em Jones as Cornelia Fort (whose writing yielded the play’s narration) and Amy Shephard as Erickson.
Director Claribel Gross says she hopes this project will inspire every girl seeing it to realize “she can fly, which to me just means you can do whatever you want, whatever you set your mind to. And two, she can see that there were women in history who made a difference … and she’s standing on the shoulders of those women.”
Keeton says Erickson viewed the script as “a love story, meaning it was her love of flying, her love of country — ’cause they really wanted to serve.”
Olympic Flight Museum,
7637 Old Hwy. 99 SE, Tumwater
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18-20