Florene Miller Watson, one of only 25 women to qualify for the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), later known as the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), became fascinated with planes at the age of 8. By age 19, she had completed flight training. Watson subsequently received her instructor's rating and started teaching men to fly in the War Training Program in Odessa and Lubbock, Texas, when World War II began. Watson turned 21 on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and soon afterward she volunteered for Army service. The Army was searching for 50 women with 500 hours of flying time to become aircraft, cargo, and troop ferriers for Air Transport Command.
This was double the standard for men who only needed 250 hours to qualify as Army pilots. The initial Cadre of 25 Women's Auxiliary Ferrying pilots averaged over 1,100 flying hours when they qualified. Their responsibilities included ferrying aircraft from manufacturers' factories to Army air bases, freeing up qualified male pilots for combat and overseas duty. In this respect, the WASPs were often the first to fly these planes, including fighters and bombers. Their duties were often hazardous, and they had to fund their own way. In 1943, Watson became the first female Commanding Officer of the WAFS/WASPS at Love Field, Texas. She also was an experimental military transport pilot, flying C-47s, and tested radar equipment before its general use in the war.
Watson had the opportunity to fly every kind of training, cargo, fighter, and bomber aircraft used by the Army Air Forces. After the war, Watson earned her Master's Degree in Business Administration and taught college for 30 years. In 1977, over 1,000 WASPS received the Victory Medal in recognition of their service. Watson is a member of many aviation organizations and serves as the Chaplain of the National Organization of the WASP. She has received a number of honors, including the Distinguished Flying Corps Member in the Krister Aviation and Space Museum, Amarillo, Texas. She was the first woman inducted into the Texas Panhandle Veterans Hall of Fame, and she has been recognized with the Daughters of the American Revolution's highest award, the National Medal of Honor.
In 2004, Watson was awarded the Air Force Association's highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Galveston Aviation Hall of Fame. Additionally, Reagan County, Texas, the county of Watson's youth, renamed its airport after her. Recently, Watson was inducted into the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame. She lives with Chris, her husband of 60 years, in Borger, Texas. They have two children and four grandchildren.
During World War II, a handpicked group of young women pilots became military aviation pioneers, national heroes, and role models as members of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). These women flew their way into the annals of history as the first women in the US trained to fly American military aircraft. In doing so, they freed up male pilots for combat service and contributed greatly to the national war effort. Watson was one of the first 25 women to qualify as a WASP. By the end of World War II, she had flown every kind of aircraft used by the Army Air Forces-her favorite being the North American P-51 Mustang.