If you’re delayed in an airport on this busy Thanksgiving weekend, give a thought to Dora Dougherty and the trail she blazed for women in the skies.Born today in 1921, her life path progressed from childhood airplane fanatic to accomplished, record-holding pilot and WWII veteran.
Dougherty learned to fly in a civilian program to increase the number of trained pilots prior to the USA’s entry into World War II. In an era where women pilots were frowned upon, Dougherty took her final flight test from an instructor who wouldn’t speak to her or any female flying a plane. After scoring her license, she applied to serve as a WASP (Women’s Air Service Pilots) and was accepted in 1943; her main duties were flying drones and pulling targets until she and a fellow female pilot were the first to fly the B-29 Bomber. Dougherty was chosen because of her adaptive skills in flying any type of plane, and because most military pilots believed the B-29 would be unreliable and dangerous and men were skittish about flying the massive craft. After proving the B-29 was “so easy to fly even a woman could do it,” she went on to train many male pilots to fly it.
After the war, Dougherty continued to pursue the science behind her passion, earning her PhD in aviation education and psychology. She also saw the future in helicopters, and set two records for helicopter altitude and distance in 1961. Later on, she and her fellow WASPs fought for recognition for their wartime duty, and eventually won their military benefits.
Dougherty passed away last year, but her amazing life and ambition will inspire girls for generations to come, and reminds us all that childhood dreams do matter.