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Oct 8, 2012 10:19 PM by Matt Stafford

Remembering WWII - Pioneering pilot roles for women

Millicent Peterson Young remembers the first time she saw an airplane; it was when a man flew in to visit her neighbors in the late-1920s. She was six. The man landed in Young's family pasture, and she ran over to see it.

"The man says, 'little girl don't touch the airplane,' and that decided me right there; first I had to violate his law, I touched the airplane," says Young, knowing right then that she wanted to be a pilot.

Over the past few weeks News 5 has been telling the stories of local pilots from the World War Ii-era, in the lead-up to the grand opening of the new National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs; that's on October 13th. The Museum is located at 765 Airport Road, backing up to the runway at the Colorado Springs Airport.

Young is one of those pilots, and one who helped pioneer roles for women in aviation.

She took her first ride in a plane when she was 14, and finally learned to fly in college.

"It was the feeling of the power of the aircraft," Young says is what really drew her to flying.

In the 1940s Young went to Sweetwater, Texas, looking to join a new unit that would free up more men pilots for combat roles -- the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. 25,000 women applied, but in the end 1,074 graduated. Young was then a "WASP" as the women in the program were called.

"We flew every kind of airplane that there was in the inventory at that time," explains Young. "We were test pilots, we were instructors, we were target towers for ground to air and air to air." The list goes on and on.

38 women in the Women's Airforce Service Pilots died.

Russia had women combat pilots at the time, but in the United States women weren't allowed. Integrating women into those roles traditionally held by was slow, and Young ran into resistance.

"I flew into Carlsbad one time and some young dude jumped up onto my AT-6 wing," recalls Young. "He said, 'what are you doing in there!' I said I'm flying the airplane. He said, 'you shouldn't be flying the airplane, I should be flying the airplane, I'm the man."

Young just responded by telling him, "Honey if you were I'd have noticed."

By the end of the war Young was a highly experienced pilot, but outside the military it didn't matter.

"The only thing you could do in the air was be a stewardess, that's it; now you can do whatever you damn well please," says Young. She knows she was a big part of that transition.

"When I get on a plane and there's a women in the cockpit I always let them know who I am, and they always thank me," explains Young. "Somebody said that I had put a few grains of sand in the path, but I always thought I was kicking the big rocks off; getting some of the obstacles off there and then they could smooth their own dang path."

So now, when she thinks about a new museum opening in Colorado Springs, she hopes more little girls will be inspired like she was and take to the skies.

Young still lives in Colorado Springs.

For more on the National Museum of World War II Aviation, click here.

Photos of Young were provided by her son, Bill Young, and FigurativePhoto.com.  The photos should not be reused without proper consent.

 

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