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The American Experience
The Film & More
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David McCullough, Series Host: Hello. I'm David McCullough. Welcome to the American Experience.

They numbered little more than a thousand. And until the emergency they had been doing mostly what women were expected to do then. They were wives, mothers, waitresses, secretaries, librarians, dancers, socialites, college students.

And like their male counterparts they had come of age during the Great Depression when jobs of almost any kind were few and very hard to get.

But it was the early 1940's , the height of the Second World War, and a call went out such as had never been made before. They volunteered in an experimental army air corps program to see if women could serve as pilots for the military, to release male pilots for combat.

"Fly Girls," our film, is a subject as pertinent today as it was more than 50 years ago.

From the vantage point of the present day, the concerns and biases they had to overcome seem absurd. But the worry that women might not be physically capable of flying military aircraft was very real.

With the fiercely determined leadership of Jackie Cochran, one of the most famous pilots of the time, the experiment succeeded beyond all expectations. These pioneer aviators proved they could do the job, and then some.

This is a wonderful story, told largely by the women themselves.

One further point: In 1977, thirty-three years after they were disbanded, the WASPS , the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, finally achieved full military recognition, when President Jimmy Carter signed a law making them officially "veterans."

"Fly Girls," by producer Laurel Ladevich.

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