Herald Neighbors

In WWII, women took to the skies


The skies are still dominated by men. Only 6 percent of the world’s pilots are women. However, the numbers, according to the Women in Aviation International, are increasing. Last Thursday, the Freeport Memorial Library welcomed historian Julia Lauria-Blum to discuss Women Airforce Service Pilots who served during the Second World War. The force was deactivated in December 1944.

During the presentation, Laurai-Blum told the story of the women from ages 18 to 21 who stepped up to participate in the Airforce’s earliest pilot program, which allowed women to fly planes during World War II.

Though the program highlighted the contributions of the women pilots to the aviation field, Laurai-Blum also mentioned Elinor Smith, “The Flying Flapper of Freeport.” Smith was the first woman test pilot for both Fairchild and Bellanca (now AviaBellanca). She was also the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16. According to the Cradle of Avaiton, Smith’s earliest and most famous stunts in 1928 included flying under all four East River suspension bridges—a feat never accomplished by another pilot.

The involvement of women in aviation goes back to the Ninety-Nines, which formed in 1929 at Curtiss Field, later renamed Roosevelt Field. Ninety-Nines was the first international women’s pilots group that formed 88 years ago on Long Island and was initially headed by Amelia Earhart.

Attendees marveled at the stories Laurai-Blumn told, which included reports about Long Island’s female pilots. The women, according Laurai-Blum, wore civilian clothes because they were not allowed to wear military uniforms.

“I was so surprised to learn about women who were making such strides in avation,” said Natalie Biranbaum, of Bellmore, who attended the workshop. “They were so brave.”