Gold B-24 bombers dangled from her ears. Pinned to her blue suit was a set of silver wings, showing she completed the Women Airforce Service Pilot training program during World War II.
Becoming a WASP was natural, Liz Strohfus said — she was fond of heights as a child.
Liz Stohfus served as a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot, or WASP in WWII. Erik Daily
“If I couldn’t find a tree, I’d sit up on a rooftop,” the now 88-year-old said.
Strohfus, of Faribault, Minn., spoke Tuesday at Viterbo University about her experience in WASP, an experimental
program that had women flying military aircraft on non-combat missions in the 1940s.
She fell in love with flying, she said, after a member of the local flying club took her up in a plane.
He did a few stalls and spins, expecting to scare her. Instead, she’d call for “one more time” after each maneuver.
By the end, it was the pilot who looked sick, said Strohfus.
Afterwards, she put her bike up as collateral on a bank loan for the $100 fee to join the club.
She learned to fly the club’s plane, a 65-horsepower Piper Cub. After finding out about the WASP program in 1942, she soon logged enough flight hours to apply.
Only 1,800 of the about 25,000 women who applied were accepted, Strohfus said, and only about 1,000 earned their wings.
Strohfus flew military trainers such as the PT-19, BT-13, and AT-6. She went on to fly the B-26 Marauder, B-17 Flying Fortress bomber and the P-39 Airacobra fighter.
The attitude at the time was “women couldn’t fly those airplanes — it takes a big man to fly,” she said. “Well, we showed them.”
She qualified as an instructor, and began teaching instruments to male pilots going overseas. For one shooting drill, she was asked to dive into gunners but not go below 500 feet. She heard 50 feet.
With her AT-6 skimming just above rooftops, it sounded like thunder and “everyone hit the deck,” she said.
Her stories ranged from the airplanes she chose over men’s marriage proposals to the hard time she had staying at fancy hotels and restaurants as a woman wearing pants.
The Army Airforce ended the WASP program in 1944. Though Strohfus wanted to keep flying, she doesn’t have hard feelings about it, she said.
She is pleased that women in the program eventually were recognized as veterans in 1979, and happy she had the experience.
“If everyone had that energy, spunk and positive attitude, it would be a great world,” said Darryle Clott, adjunct instructor at Viterbo. “She is an inspiration to me as a woman.”
The event was co-sponsored by Chapter 307 of the Experimental Aircraft Association and the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership.