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Meet a Pioneer Pilot

Amelia Earhart Home

Now you can learn more about some of the challenges Amelia Earhart faced by reading an interview with a woman who grew up in the age of Earhart — and also chose to become a pilot! Meet Sylvia Barter, a World War II pilot and member of the Ninety-Nines, the organization of women pilots cofounded by Amelia Earhart in 1929. In April 1997, Ms. Barter was online to answer questions about what life was like for female pilots during this period and to talk about how Amelia Earhart's work had an impact on women in aviation. Read the interview, and explore Sylvia Barter's early experiences, and learn why she chose to become a pilot.

Meet Sylvia Barter

Sylvia Barter's interest in flying began at an early age. In the 1920s and 1930s, barnstorming pilots would land in her father's fields in Solvang, California. She took her first airplane ride when she was eight years old, and knew then that one day she'd become a pilot.

In 1939, she graduated from business college and began work in Salinas, California. There she met her husband, Gene, who shared her love of flying. During their year of courtship they took flying lessons and acquired their pilot licenses.

When World War II began, Gene joined the Army Air Force and Sylvia joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1943. WASPs were the first women military pilots to support the U.S. Air Force. They would ferry planes and passengers throughout the United States in order to free male pilots for combat duty. The women pilots received rigorous training, were under military orders and discipline, lived in barracks, and piloted military aircraft. However, WASPs were not considered military personnel.

Sylvia was assigned to Douglas Army Air Base in Arizona. "I realized that a very big challenge awaited me," she remembers. "It was important . . . to create an image of a capable military woman pilot in an atmosphere that, up to that time, was out of the realm of female activity. At the time I reported in November 1943, I was the only WASP ever to be assigned to that base."

WASP was disbanded in December 1944; the women pilots were told they were no longer needed because male pilots were returning from overseas. It was not until 1979 that WASP was declared an official military branch, and the remaining pilots were granted veteran status.

Sylvia and her husband settled in California and raised four children. Her love of flying never diminished. In 1976, she joined the Ninety-Nines, the women's pilot organization cofounded by Amelia Earhart in 1929. She has also updated her flying skills and renewed her license. And a few years ago, she participated in the Pacific Air Race from San Diego to Concord, Mass.

Read the interview with Sylvia Barter.