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For immediate release
December 10, 2002
NPR: Laura Gross

NPR News Airs Documentary About First Women Pilots to Fly Aircraft in the Military

Washington, DC - On December 18, All Things Considered from NPR News takes an unprecedented, first person glimpse into the U.S. Airforce, circa early 1940, as it faces a dilemma that for a short period in history, transformed America's military and society. Thousands of new airplanes were coming off assembly lines and required delivery to military bases nationwide, yet most of America's pilots were overseas fighting the war. To solve the problem, the government launched an experimental program to train women pilots. They were called the WASPs, Women Airforce Service Pilots. Over the next two years, more than 1,000 WASPs ferried planes, towed targets, participated in simulated bombing missions, trained male pilots, and performed many other duties.

"The WASPs", a 22-minute radio documentary, chronicles the experiences of the first women to fly military aircraft in America. It was an era when few people thought women could - or should - fly. Yet the war created a bubble of opportunity, one that most WASPs knew was fleeting. On December 20, 1944, as male pilots began returning from combat, the WASP program was suddenly deactivated, and the WASPs were sent home. It would be more than three decades before these women were officially recognized for their war effort.

Through more than 25 hours of interviews and archival tape, "The WASPs" is an oral history of one of the best-kept secrets of WWII.

Women weren't doctors, lawyers, engineers. I could be a nurse, a librarian or a teacher. Those were my choices. And if it wasn't for the war and the fact that they were so short of pilots that they condescended to let us enter the sanctum sanctorum. And they let us know that. They let us in because they needed us. They needed pilots. --Kaddy Steele, WASP 1942-1944

The documentary is produced by award-winning writer and producer for public radio, Joe Richman. Richman most recently produced Laura's Diary: My So-Called Lungs, an audio diary of a young woman with cystic fibrosis. He also is known for the Teenage Diaries and Prison Diaries series. He is the founder of Radio Diaries Inc., a not-for-profit production company in New York City, dedicated to helping people document their lives for public radio. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. According to The Los Angeles Times, "Richman, a kind of Studs Terkel of the airwaves, elicits intimate, disarming radio documentaries."

All Things Considered, NPR's daily, afternoon newsmagazine was first broadcast in 1971, and is public radio's second most listened-to program after Morning Edition with Bob Edwards, attracting a weekly audience of 10.3 million. Thirty years ago All Things Considered debuted on 90 public radio stations. Today, the program airs on 569 public radio stations nationwide.

The documentary is made possible with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

NPR, renowned for journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information and cultural programming, serves a growing audience of nearly 20 million Americans each week via more than 680 public radio stations. NPR Online at brings hourly newscasts, news features, commentaries and live events to Internet users through original online reports, audio streaming and other multimedia elements. NPR also distributes programming to listeners in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR Worldwide, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network and throughout Japan via cable.