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Florene Watson

First Woman Commanding Officer at WAFS/WASP at Love Field

Florene Miller Watson is the first commanding officer of the Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS)/Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) 5th Ferrying Group, Love Field, Texas who ferried fighters and bombers across the country during World War II. As a licensed pilot at age 19, she taught American men to fly in the critical pre-war era.

During Florene’s sophomore year at Baylor University, her father purchased a single-engine Luscomb airplane which enabled Florene to spend numerous hours flying and studying about engines, navigation, meteorology, rules and regulations. In a few months Florene became a commercial pilot, obtained flight and ground school instructor ratings, and was one of the nations few women aviation instructors teaching at Odessa Flying Service.

December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, was Florene’s 21st birthday. She volunteered and became one of the first members of the WAFS. To qualify as Army pilots, men were required to have 250 hours of flying time, a commercial license and a horse power rating. On the other hand, women were required to have 500 hours. The women who qualified at the time, averaged 1,100 hours each. Only 25 women, including Florene, met the strict criteria and they became “guinea pigs” for the U.S. Army?s experiment with women pilots.

They flew 8 months delivering airplanes nationally before any of the 1,074 women pilots graduated from Jackie Cochran?s flight training school. Later, as the ranks grew, the WAFS were integrated into and renamed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Although the WASP held officer status, they were classified as civilians, ineligible for government life insurance, military funerals, burial expenses, and other G.I. benefits. More than three decades elapsed before the first honorable discharge was awarded to a WASP.

Florene is retired from a 30 year college teaching career. She is a frequent speaker on women in aviation in World War II and for the last ten years has been the National Chaplain of the WASP. Florene also has had extensive bible training and is active in her church and community affairs in the Amarillo, Texas area.