Jane Doyle, part of aviation history, passes away

eightWest

Grand Rapids native who was among the first women to fly a U.S. military plane has died. eightWest first introduced you to Mildred Jane Doyle three years ago. We learned passed away Friday, February 1 at the age of 97.

More than 70 years after her service, Doyle remembers well her time as a pilot during World War II.

“They called us fly girls,” Doyle explained.

She was among more than 1,000 women who first flew military planes in the 1940s as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, also known as the WASP. Perhaps Doyle was destined for it. Born in Grand Rapids, she was adventurous as a young girl. She remembers when her mother took her to see legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh. At just 6 years old, that’s when her interest in flying took off.

“I loved to do things the boys did, rather than play with dolls like the girls,” Doyle said at the senior living center where she now resides in Grand Rapids. In junior college, Doyle took part in a civilian pilot training program and received her private license. In 1943, more men were needed to serve the U.S. Military in combat overseas during World War II. In an unprecedented move, women were suddenly called on to fly stateside. Doyle went to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she trained for seven months. She would be among the first women to fly a military plane.

“They were sending us to all different bases,” Doyle explained. “(WASPs) were flying planes for live ammunition. Practice for gunnery.”

A primary task for the WASP was also to test-fly military planes before they were sent overseas. The women did not take part in combat missions, but it was still a dangerous job, as 38 were killed while serving. And the WASP pilots’ contributions were hardly known. “Even people in the Air Force didn’t know about us unless we were stationed at a base. They kept it quiet,” Doyle said.

Decades later, in 1977, the WASP was finally given some well-deserved recognition. Legislation was passed that gave the WASP pilots veteran status. And in 2009, members of the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Today, only 69 WASP pilots are still alive. Doyle is the only living WASP in Michigan. Many current female pilots now credit the WASP for brazing a trail for women in aviation.

“They call us pioneers now,” Doyle said. “I said, ‘I never thought I’d be a pioneer, but I guess I am.'”

Doyle’s family is asking memorial contributions in her honor be made to the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas.

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