ppateman.jpgWhen Yvonne “Pat” Pateman told her family she wanted to become a pilot, they thought she was crazy.
It was 1942, and Pateman had no interest in being what she called “a ground-bounder or waffle-butt.” So she budgeted $10 out of each paycheck she earned at the Western Electric factory in New Jersey, and began taking flying lessons.
With a mere six hours of flight time under her belt, Pateman answered Uncle Sam’s call for female pilots. Out of more than 25,000 applicants, she was one of only 1,074 who earned their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). During World War II, Pateman ferried planes from Fort Erie, Canada to Newark, N.J., and performed “check rides” on aircraft that had undergone repair.
The WASPs were deactivated in 1944 and Pateman was told she could return to her job at the factory, but she didn’t find that option very appealing. Determined to work in aviation, Pateman moved to California and landed a job pumping gas at an airport. She was hired by Aero Trans Inc. to fly civilian aircraft from factories to buyers, and became a flight instructor in Culver City.
Then in 1949, Pateman received a U.S. Air Force Reserve commission as a first lieutenant. She was called to active duty during the Korean War, and assigned to the 78th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Hamilton Air Force Base. Because women were not allowed to fly in combat, Pateman served as an intelligence officer in the Philippines and Japan.
During the Vietnam War, she served as chief of the 7th Air Force Warning Division at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon. Pateman was the chief of the China Air and Missile Section of the Defense Intelligence Agency when she retired from the service as a lieutenant colonel in 1971.
In the final years of her life, Pateman spoke at aviation and military women’s organization events. She wrote the 1996 book, “Women Who Dared: American Female Test Pilots, Flight Test Engineers & Astronauts,” and produced the documentary, “We Were WASP.” She also spent 10 years as the WASP chair for Military and Veterans Affairs, and was a national president of the Women Airforce Service Pilots Association. WASPs were accorded veteran status by Congress in 1977.
Pateman died on April 4 of a stroke. She was 84.