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Wing Scouts were not airheads

“Piloting airliners for commercial air transport companies is strictly a man’s job. You might, however, look into the possibility of flying with a smaller passenger or cargo line.”

Those words, as well as a suggestion that women might also become “airline stewardesses,” were actually trying to encourage the aviation-interested young women who were members of the Wing Scouts.

The idea of the Wing Scout Program began slowly in 1941 as one of the activities for Senior Girl Scouts. Young women would be taught everything about aviation, but would not fly themselves. Interest in the Wing Scouts surged with America’s sudden entrance into World War II.

In November 1943, Medford Girl Scouts offered the first Wing Scout Program in Oregon to senior high school girls between the ages of 15 and 18. Within days, 24 girls had enrolled and voted to name their troop the “Kittyhawks,” commemorating the Wright brothers’ first airplane flight.

In addition to weekly meetings at the high school, the girls were required to give 25 hours of volunteer community service at the Wing-In Canteen, at the Medford airport. Managed by adult volunteers, the canteen served military personnel and air crews who were stopping over while flying up and down the West Coast.

The girls began their preflight training course by studying meteorology, plane identification, model plane building, parachute packing, and the theory of flight. Soon they were at the airport with their male instructors, Airport Traffic Controller Ken Grant and Airport Operations Manager, Army Captain O.M. Smith. There, the girls learned operation of the control tower and the airport’s weather and radio departments. They also sat in real airplanes and rode along as passengers.

Within six months, Northwest Girl Scout executive Marjorie Hopkins said Medford’s Wing Scout program had been rated best in the Northwest.

“This outstanding achievement,” she said, “has been made possible through cooperation of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, United Airlines and the Medford Army Air Base.”

“The objective of Wing Scouting,” added Margo Collins, local pack leader, “is to meet the needs of air-minded girls, make them aware of the importance of air power, and to prepare girls for community service in the field of aviation.”

At war’s end, nearly 90 Jackson County girls were actively participating in the program, however, their interest quickly faded, and by spring 1946, the first Wing Scout Program ended.

In February 1950, a new Wing Scout troop formed, naming themselves the “Airharts,” a fanciful tribute to Amelia Earhart, the world famous aviator who disappeared in 1937.

“The troop is off to a flying start,” said Berte Hampson, the troop leader, “with many happy flights ahead.”

The program continued on for a few more years, but was never as popular as it had been. By the 1980s, the national Girl Scouts retired the entire program.

Some of the local Wing Scouts did indeed become flight attendants, and others worked in many other aviation-related fields, but how many actually learned to fly seems not to have been recorded.

It certainly would be great fun if someone knows one of these women.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.

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