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"I've been asked, 'How long are you are going to fly?' and I say, 'As long as I can get in and out of the airplane.'" (Video Interview, 1:39:01)

   Margaret Ray Ringenberg
Image of Margaret Ray Ringenberg
Margaret Ringenberg [2004]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots)
Service Location: Wilmington, Delaware
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Margaret Ringenberg grew up on an Indiana farm in the 1920s and 30s, so isolated from the world that she'd never heard of Amelia Earhart. But she was interested in flying. Her modest ambition was to become a flight attendant, but she soon set her sights higher. The Civil Air Patrol trained her as a flyer, and the WASP accepted her as part of their fifth class, the first to train solely at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. Once she had her wings, she was based out of Wilmington, Delaware, ferrying planes during the war. "Not content to sit at home" after the WASP were disbanded, Ringenberg kept on flying, managing to pull off her first around-the-world flight at the age of 72.

Interview (Video)
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Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (3 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (28 min.)
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»WASP
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (13 items)
As a child, getting an airplane ride from a barnstorming pilot; did not think about being a pilot until she was in high school; knew she couldn't be a pilot because of her gender so decided to become a stewardess; took nurse's training, got curious about the way the plane operated and began taking lessons. (03:33) When she asked her father if she could take flying lessons, his first reaction was noncommittal, but the second time she asked, he had done research, knew what it would take, and supported her ambition; her first lesson in 1940; accepted in part because of the shortage of men to learn; parents supported her flying even after the WASP disbanded. (03:08) Her first solo flight at Smith Field in Ft. Wayne; getting into it with an instructor over her lack of flying time; using up her savings to learn to fly; got her license in 1942, called for service in January 1943. (02:34)
Part of first group in Civil Air Patrol in Ft. Wayne; was in it until she went into the WASP; she had experience marching in the CAP, was made a section marcher in WASP training at Sweetwater; went to Chicago by train for her WASP interview; taking her physical at Bear Field in Chicago with two other women, the first women ever given physical exams there. (05:08) Training in a PT-19 with an open cockpit; other training details; days divided between flying and classes; had had trouble getting her private license in all-boys' class; tried to blend in with her wardrobe but instructor singled her out to answer problems on the board. (02:00) Origins of the WASP, the Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Love groups of women fliers; her choice of bases when she graduated was Romulus, Michigan; Long Beach, California; Dallas, Texas; or Wilmington, Delaware; she chose the latter and went there with Love's original group of 25 ferrying pilots. (01:41)
Every day she was afraid she would wash out of training with the WASP. (02:16) No uniforms per se; they wore men's khaki pants and white blouses; their flight suits were men's, far too big, so they rolled up the sleeves and wore a belt around the middle; no one complained. (01:08) Before she got unpacked, was given assignment to go to Hagerstown, Maryland, to pick up plane from the Fairchild plant for delivery; one memorable trip: after delivering plane down South, given B-24 to fly back to Washington, DC; challenged by a male pilot who did not know women were flying; they eventually became friends; on another flight, getting lost between Pittsburgh and Ft. Wayne; landing in a farmer's field and asking for directions. (05:34)
Got uniforms six months after the program started, Santiago blue jackets but no uniform slacks; wore matching blue slacks at Smith Field after she got home; traveling salesman promised to make a copy of her uniform, borrowed it, and she never saw it or him again. (02:27) Resentment from some of the male fliers; first week at Wilmington, got reprimanded in the mess hall by a pilot, who later apologized and became a friend. (03:00) WASP disbanded in December 1944; "I was devastated;" started instructing at Smith Field; in late 1970s, President Carter gave them an honorable discharge; thinks about the injustice of families of the WASP killed in accidents having to pay for their daughters to be shipped home; how she met and stayed in touch with her future husband, to whom she was married for 57 years. (04:04)
Getting involved in air racing starting in 1956 when the Powder Puff Derby came to Ft. Wayne; still flying 50 years later; has been around the world a couple of times; first time was in 1994, when she was 72. (05:40)  
  
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (3 items)
Life on the base in Wilmington; wasn't there much; routine was to pick up planes at Fairchild plant in Hagerstown, Maryland, test them and deliver them; 38 WASP were killed in accidents and their families had to pay to bring the remains home; sometimes the WASP at that base took up a collection. (04:36) Having one of her two engines blow up in mid-flight and landing the plane rather than bailing out; called her base to report and got chewed out by safety officer for not following a certain procedure; commanding officer at base where she landed backed her up; soon after, she found herself ferrying the safety officer to a point of embarkation--he was being shipped overseas. (03:35) Coming back to Ft. Wayne after WASP disbanded; working at the airport; working the desk one day when radio station called to say Japan was about to surrender; they wanted to drop leaflets over Ft. Wayne because the newspaper was on strike and many people did not have radios in their cars; she dropped over 50,000 leaflets; fifty years later, she did a re-enactment, this time with about 500 leaflets. (01:28)
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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