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Women run wind tunnel experiments, direct air traffic, and fabricate airplanes. American women have been involved with flight from the beginning, but until 1940, most people believed women could not fly, that Amelia Earhart was an exception to the rule. World War II changed everything. “It is on the record that women can fly as well as men,” stated General Henry H. Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces. The question became “Should women fly?” Deborah G. Douglas tells the story of this ongoing debate and its impact on American history. From Jackie Cochran, whose perseverance led to the formation of the Women’s Army Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II to the recent achievements of Jeannie Flynn, the Air Force’s first woman fighter pilot and Eileen Collins, NASA’s first woman shuttle commander, Douglas introduces a host of determined women who overcame prejudice and became military fliers, airline pilots, and air and space engineers. Not forgotten are stories of flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and mechanics. American Women and Flight since 1940 is a revised and expanded edition of a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum reference work. Long considered the single best reference work in the field, this new edition contains extensive new illustrations and a comprehensive bibliography.

I have nothing but admiration for Douglas’s expanded account of the many contribution women have made to the history of flight. -- Ann Carl, author of A Wasp Among Eagles

A wonderful service to all women in aviation. From the Air Transport Auxiliary of the 1940s—we 24 gals that Jackie Cochrane took to England to ferry aircraft—to the present, this book will be an essential tool for students and researchers. -- Ann Wood-Kelly, original member of the ATA, later Staff Vice President of Pan Am

An accomplished historian, Debbie Douglas has written the authoritative account of contemporary American women’s contributions to civil and military aviation. Based on solid scholarship, this even-handed book documents not only women’s numerous aerial feats, but what transpired on the ground for them to be able to achieve in the air. -- Capt. Rosemary Bryant Mariner, United States Navy (Ret.), former tactical jet pilot

An excellent survey of the progress and accomplishments of women in all aspects of aviation in the second half of the 20th century. Douglas reveals the hard-fought struggle to attain real equality in the cockpit, as part of the larger societal struggle, and her first-rate bibliography includes non-aviation gender titles and studies. The book is an important motivational and educational resource for young women. -- Dorothy Cochrane, Curator, Aeronautics Division, National Air and Space Museum

The numbers of women pilots sharing the skies with men have advanced at turtle-speed. However, Deborah Douglas offers evidence that women of talent and persistence are making dramatic inroad into all fields of aviation. Her powerful story offers assurance to every young girl that only the imagination, not the sky, is the limit. -- Gene Nora Jessen, author of The Powder Puff Derby of 1929

An interesting and compelling read about awe-inspiring women who pursued their passion against imposing odds and often with extreme sacrifice. -- H-Minerva

Reading like a novel, but too unbelievable to be one, Debbie Douglas' work is a powerful statement of how women have changed the world of flight. -- Roger Launius, Chair, Division of Space History, Smithsonian Institution

This book . . . is not just about obstacles and barriers; it is just as much about the vital roles women have played in aviation, and it has implications that are broader than just women's history. -- Technology and Culture

Provides a thorough analysis of the barriers women had to overcome in aviation, even in roles more socially acceptable than pilot, astronaut, or air-traffic controller. -- Wellesley Magazine

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Women air pilots, Air pilots


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

American Women and Flight since 1940
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