Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The B-17 Bombers of WWII and The Women who Flew Them

By Pamela S. Meyers 

In my book research about women who served the WWII war effort, I have been most impressed about the women of WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). who flew new aircraft from their point of manufacture to U.S. military bases on either coast. From there, male military pilots would take over the equipment and take the planes into battle. 

Vintage Postcard of the B-17

WASP pilots were not considered military but rather a service group that served the military during wartime. These ladies were smart, talented, and courageous women who endured 22-1/2 weeks of training that equally compared with what the men in the Army Airforce received. The only two areas of training the women didn’t receive was gunnery and formation flying since they were not to go into battle. The women of WASP had moxie. So courageous and smart. 

In addition to their rigorous training, what impressed me was the planes they flew weren't small planes, but huge bombers like the B-17, also known as "The Flying Fortress). I was already familiar with that plane because a few years ago, I attended a fly-in of vintage aircraft at my local private airport and one of the highlights was a B-17 that I was able to enter and see the interior. 

Me standing in front of the B-17 I saw
at the fly-in. You can see how big the
plane was compared to the people.

Soldier standing guard over newly
manufactured B-17
Wikimedia, Public Domain

WASP was not considered to be a part of the U.S. Military and I'm not sure how much people even knew about them and what they were doing behind the scenes to serve. The purpose of WASP was to get the newly minted war machines to the coasts to be taken into battle without having to use men to get them there. The men were needed in the war zones, not making domestic trips on the homefront.

WASP even had a mascot, a little sprite called Fifinella. I presume Fifi (her nickname) was designed to encourage the women and hopefully draw attention to their important work in the war effort. 
Public Domain Wikimedia

Similar to Marvel characters, she started out as one of the Gremlins that were featured in a book titled The Gremlins by a former RAF pilot, Roald Dahl. Walt Disney went on to make an animated movie called The Gremlins and acquired the copyright to Fifinella. There’s quite a backstory of legalities that ensued, which I’m not going to go into in this post. 

“Fifi” appeared on patches the WASP pilots wore on their uniforms and also was painted onto the nose of some of the planes they flew. Today, she still appears on merchandise you can purchase online. 

Photo of a WASP woman with 
Fifinella patch on her uniform jacket
Public Domain-Wikimedia

Have you ever piloted an airplane? If so, please share in the comments! 

Pam Meyers has been writing since she was a child and kept a diary at age eight. She's published a number of historical novels set in her hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, along with several contemporary novels.

She makes her home in northern Illinois with her two rescue cats. She's only about an hour away from Lake Geneva and you'll often find her there nosing around for new story ideas.



  1. I’ve never piloted a plane, although I had a chance with my dad, who can fly. The heat in the small plane was too much for me. I have flown in a B-17 as research for my B-17 series. Biggest impression—the noise. I could not hear someone talking right in front of me.

    1. Terri, I could have ridden in the B-17 at the fly-in but the price of a ticket exceeded my budge by quite a few dollars. In the instructional movie showing a trainer talking to a pilot in the cockpit of a B-17 while they were flying I didn' see any means of using a radiophone or whatever they would have had back then to be heard over the noise. Maybe the noise wasn't as bad in that position as farther back. I'm a little envious that you were able to experience the actual plane in flight like that!

  2. Thanks for the post! I had heard of the WASPS before but didn't know the extent of their training. I love that the cartoony "Fifi" was allowed! Hopefully that didn't detract from the respect others gave these women as they were doing their jobs.

    1. Connie, I haven't seen anything negative related to the cartoon-like figure of Fifi. I've seen quite a few pictures planes that were taken into battle with similar cartoon-like figures painted on the planes. Perhaps a bit of needed levity in the midst of a dangerous war.

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  4. I have never flown an airplane, but back during that war, I read about the WASPS. In my 8 year old mind, they and the women who served as nurses were real heroes. I didn't realize at the time that they weren't really a part of the armed services. I told my father I wanted to be in the armed services when I grew up. He laughed and said he could see me as many things, but not a soldier, and besides that, the wars would all be over by then. Also, back then, my grandmother said only loose women who wanted to be around men and do a man's job wanted to WASPS, WAACS or WAVES. I still love reading stories about them and learning more about about the women who took over tasks like the WASPS and the women who served. Thanks for the post.

  5. Oh, I forgot to add I did a double take when I saw that last picture of the WASP. She looks enough like the mother of a friend that they could have been sisters. Almost eerie.