POLK CITY, Fla. (March 1, 2010) – When the WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots, return to Fantasy of Flight March 25-27 to take part in the annual Living History Symposium Series held in their honor, they will undoubtedly hold their heads just a little higher. Just two weeks before their Fantasy of Flight appearance, and more than 60 years since their brave service during World War II as the first women to pilot U.S. military aircraft, the WASP will be officially recognized by the U.S. Congress with the Congressional Gold Medal.
On March 10, as many as 300 of the original 1,114 WASP are expected to convene on Capitol Hill to receive the highest award a civilian can receive from the United States Congress. The Congressional Gold Medal is bestowed only upon those who have performed an outstanding act of service for their country. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law in July 2009 to grant the WASP this great honor.
From March 25-27, in honor of Women’s History Month, four of the original WASP, Bernice “Bee” Falk Haydu, Riviera Beach, Fla., Florence Rubin Mascott, Palm Beach, Fla., Barry Vincent Smith, Avon Park, Fla. and Helen Wyatt Snapp, Pembroke Pines, Fla. will take part in the second of Fantasy of Flight’s three-part Living History Symposium Series. Called “A Passionate Pursuit,” the weekend forum will celebrate all of the fearless female pilots who left their homes and jobs at the height of World War II to serve their country as the first American women to fly for the U.S. military. When every available American male pilot was absorbed into combat overseas, dangerous non-combat flight duty still required pilots stateside for ferrying, testing, dragging targets and liaison – tasks hardly suited for the inexperienced or the faint of heart. The WASP bravely stepped forward to fill that void and aid in the war effort.
The symposium will bring to life the experiences of these courageous aviators through several open-forum/question-and-answer sessions with Haydu, Mascott, Smith and Snapp, as well as permanent and semi-permanent exhibits and real aircraft. Fantasy of Flight’s WASP exhibition, which includes aircraft as well as four separate bays that feature historical, anecdotal, and inspirational newsreel footage, original photos, and storytelling panels from the 1940s and today, will serve as the backdrop for historic appearances from the real pilots.
New this year, on Friday, March 26, from noon to 1:30 p.m., Fantasy of Flight will host a special, reservations-only luncheon with limited seating in honor of the four WASP. The intimate luncheon will be held at the Orlampa Conference Center at Fantasy of Flight. Tickets are $65 plus tax per person and include admission to the afternoon symposium and attraction after the luncheon. Reservations are required. For tickets, visit www.fantasyofflight.com/livinghistory or call 863-984-3500, ext. 220. Corporate tables and individual tickets are available.
“These amazing women literally shattered the glass ceiling when they took to the skies in U.S. military aircraft nearly 70 years ago,” said Kermit Weeks, founder and creator of Fantasy of Flight. “We hope the community will come out in force to hear their inspirational stories, including their experience receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, and to give them the heroes’ welcome they deserve.”
Bernice “Bee” Falk Haydu was an engineering test pilot and utility pilot for WASP for only one year before the program was disbanded, but she later served as President of the Order of Fifinella, the WASP alumnae organization, and was instrumental in the fight to obtain WWII Vet
erans’ status for members of the group. The battle for Veterans’ benefits took two years, a national media tour and “much midnight oil being burned,” but the bill was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in Nov. 1977. An active pilot, flight instructor and aviation business owner, Haydu also was instrumental in starting a new group, Women Military Pilots, which was later changed to Women Military Aviators to incorporate women other than pilots. Her WASP uniform can be seen on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and she wrote a book detailing her WASP experience, entitled Letters Home 1944-1945. For all of her contributions to her country and to the field of aviation, Haydu was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000.
Florence Rubin Mascott spent her childhood dreaming of flight. She caught her break after completing NYA Radio School, when she began working as a professor’s assistant at MIT and learned about the CAP (Civil Air Patrol) program. Although she finally got to ride in an airplane as she had always dreamed, being a passenger wasn’t enough. She set her sights on logging the necessary 35 hours of flight time to become a WASP. Her mother surprised her with the then astounding amount of $300 needed to complete her hours and pay board at a small flight training school in Warrenton, Va., where a cow pasture served as the runway. On her way home from flight training, she stopped in Washington, D.C. to apply for WASP and was accepted into the May 1944 class by WASP founder herself, Jackie Cochran. She flew AT-6s for WASP for a short time, until Dec. 1944 when the program was deactivated. She worked as an aircraft communicator until the men came home from WWII and her job was given to a returning veteran. At just 20 years old, she settled down into a “more conventional life” as a buyer for a department store.
Barry Vincent Smith was 21 years old, living with her parents in Chittenango, N.Y., when her brother, who had recently enlisted in the Air Force, wrote her a letter telling her she’d “better learn to fly” because women would soon get a chance to pilot military aircraft. Smith went out the next day and found a flight instructor, whom she paid $14.50 per one hour lesson, more than half of her weekly salary at the phone company. After logging the 35 required hours of flight time necessary to apply for WASP, the small town girl took a train to New York City, by herself, for her interview and was accepted into the WASP program. She had to wait six months, until Jan.1, 1944, to start her training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she flew day and night, dual and solo, piloting AT-6s, BT-13s and Stearmans for WASP.
Helen Wyatt Snapp was working as a government clerk in Washington, D.C. when she decided to take advantage of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s new Civilian Pilot Training Program and quickly earned her private pilot’s license. While her husband, Ira Benton Snapp, was serving overseas, Helen heard about the WASP program and wanted to do her part. She was accepted into the program in Jan. 1943 and served at Liberty Field in Camp Stewart, Ga. until WASP was de-activated. By that time, Snapp had completed more than 1,000 hours of flying time and flew numerous target missions, towing targets for live fire on anti-aircraft ranges.
Only 1,830 of the 25,000 applicants were accepted into the WASP program, and 1,074 of those women earned their silver WASP wings. Their indomitable founder, Jackie Cochran, became the first civilian to receive the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal for her vision and leadership of the WASP program.
The third in the Living History Symposium Series, “Victory in the Sky” will take place Saturday, April 17 featuring American Fighter Aces in honor of National Military Month. This elite group of combat pilots shot down five or more hostile aircraft in air-to-air combat in World War I and II, as well as Korea and Vietnam. Out of more than 40,000 fighter pilots trained during World War II, only 1,314 had the skill and bravery to become an American Fighter Ace. Along with firsthand accounts from the Fighter Aces, Fantasy of Flight’s immersion experiences and meticulously recreated historical exhibits take guests back in time to see, hear and feel what it was like to fly some of America’s greatest wartime airplanes. The true stories of these courageous pilots are further brought to life by the world’s largest private collection of rare and vintage aircraft, and tours of aircraft restoration and maintenance areas.
During each symposium, Fantasy of Flight will feature “Open Cockpit Days” during which guests are invited to get up close and personal with some of America’s most rare vintage aircraft and climb aboard for a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.
Fantasy of Flight also hosts a number of other special events throughout the 2010 year, including the 100th Anniversary of Scouting Camporee, March 5- 7; The Blue Max: Scale Remote Controlled (R/C) Challenge and Fly-In, March 12-13; the Sun ‘n Fun Splash-In at Fantasy of Flight on Lakes Agnes, April 15; Mustangs & Mustangs-Legends Havin’ Fun 2010, April 17; Roar n’ Soar, Nov. 13 -14 and many more.
Cost of each Living History symposium is included with Fantasy of Flight admission, which is $28.95 for adults, $14.95 for children ages 6-15, plus 7 percent sales tax. Children 5 and younger are free. Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more. Annual passes are available for $69.95 for adults, $39.95 for children ages 6-15, plus 7 percent sales tax, and are good for one year from the date of purchase. Open Cockpit Days are free for Annual Pass holders and $20 additional for paid guests.
For more information, call 863-984-3500 or visit www.fantasyofflight.com.