Cornelia Clark Fort was a United States aviator who became famous for being part of two aviation-related events: Pearl Harbor and second woman to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS).
Cornelia Fort was born in 1919 in Nashville, TN. Her interest in aviation was born at a young age of five when she watched a barnstormer perform in the Curtiss Jenny. She took her first lesson in 1940 and was hooked becoming an instructor in 1941. Her first job was at Fort Collins, CO flight school where she was the only woman flight instructor in a government sponsored pilot training program.
One warm December morning Cornelia and her student were out flying. The student practiced, honing his skills prior to solo flight, practicing take-offs and landings and level flight when Cornelia observed a military aircraft headed in their direction. While not unusual since the military base was next to the civilian airport, something was off. It was December 1941. Knowing something was off, Cornelia had seized the controls from the student and averted an incident with the oncoming aircraft, and watched in utter disbelief, as the Japanese aircraft passed by. She and her student landed and fled to safety.
Knowing US was soon headed to war she was interested in contributing to that effort. She accepted a instructor position at Andrews Flying Service in Honolulu in September of 1941 and by December of that year she had 300 flight hours. In September of the same year she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service (WAFS). WAFS was created in September 1942 within the Air Transport Command, under Nancy Harkness Love’s leadership. WAFS were recruited from among commercially licensed women pilots with at least 500 hours flying time and a 200-hp rating.
She was based in Long Beach, CA and checked out in the BT-13 and participated in ferrying missions. It was during one of those missions when she was transporting a group of pilots from Long Beach to Dallas, TX in March 1943, she perished in during a mid-air collision with another aircraft that resulted in her aircraft crashing to the ground. She was the first of the WAFS to be killed on a mission.
March is Women History Month and Women of Aviation Month.
Plane and Pilot Magazine: Cornelia Fort
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