WAI hall of fame to honor aviation pioneers

January 5, 2011

Pioneers in military and civilian aviation are among the 2011 inductees into the Women in Aviation, International (WAI) Pioneer Hall of Fame.

WAI President Peggy Chabrian, Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs L. Tammy Duckworth, astronaut Maj. Gen. Susan J. Helms, and Women Airforce Service Pilots Hazel Ying Lee and Mary Ann Martin Wyall comprise the group to be inducted during WAI’s Annual International Conference Feb. 24 through 26 in Reno, Nev.

“For our members, these pioneers represent both their history and inspiration for their own lives,” Chabrian said. "To get an opportunity to meet and be photographed with these living legends is the highlight of the conference for many.”

Chabrian, a multi-thousand-hour commercial pilot with a rotary-wing rating and flight instructor certificate, founded WAI to provide networking, mentoring and scholarship opportunities for women and men in aviation and aerospace. Under her leadership, the nonprofit organization has grown from a conference of 150 people in 1990 to an organization representing thousands of women, WAI said in the announcement. The organization now has a presence at major aviation events throughout the year, including a growing Women’s Wing at AOPA Aviation Summit. Chabrian spoke on AOPA Live at Summit in 2009 about getting women into aviation and in 2010 about the growth of WAI. She has been flying for more than 20 years and has held top positions in aviation education programs at several universities.

In her position at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Duckworth advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on matters relating to media and public affairs. A major in the Illinois Army National Guard, she served in Iraq as an assistant operations officer and flew combat missions as a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot. Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of one arm in 2004 after a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into the right side of the helicopter of which she was copilot and was awarded the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, and the Combat Action Badge for her actions. Since returning from Iraq, she has earned an FAA fixed-wing pilot certificate and twice completed the Chicago Marathon. See “Something to overcome” for more on Duckworth’s compelling story.

Helms, who in 1993 became the first U.S. military woman in space, is director of plans and policy for the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. She has served as an F-15 and F-16 weapons separation engineer and a flight test engineer and was selected by NASA in 1990, becoming an astronaut the following year. She has logged 211 days in space during five spaceflights, including an eight hour, 56 minute spacewalk.

Lee took her first flight in 1932 and was one of the first Chinese-American women to earn a pilot’s license. She traveled to China after the Japanese attack on that country and volunteered to serve in the Chinese Air Force but was rejected because she was a woman; she took a job in commercial aviation there before returning to the United States in 1938. She joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots in 1943 was killed in a P-63 accident in 1944.

Wyall, another of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, flew AT-6s, BF-13s and PT-17s during World War II and continued in aviation afterward as a ferry pilot, flight instructor, and owner of an aircraft charter business. WAI recognized her as being instrumental in the preservation of Women Airforce Service Pilots history: she maintained the history in scrapbooks in her home and sought personal stories and memorabilia for 45 years, the organization said.

The Women in Aviation, International Pioneer Hall of Fame was established in 1992 “to honor women who have made significant contributions as record setters, pioneers, or innovators.” The new members will be inducted at the WAI conference’s closing banquet on Feb. 26.