Sunday, July 25, 2010

Micky Axton: First woman to fly a B-29

Wichita service honors aviation heroine Micky Axton

All her life, Micky Axton loved aviation.
BY Conor Shine
The Wichita Eagle

Born in Coffeyville in 1919, she had her first ride in an airplane when she was 11, received her pilot's license when she was 21 and was still flying planes in her 70s. She served as a pilot in World War II and became the first woman to fly a Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

American flags dotted the White Chapel Cemetery, 1806 N. Oliver, Friday where a memorial service was held in honor of Mildred "Micky" Axton. Axton, who spent much of her life in Wichita, passed away in February at age 91 in Minnesota, where she had been living with family.

During the ceremony, Axton was given full military honors. Five restored World War II planes, including one named "Miss Micky" in her honor, performed a flyover.

Axton's love of aviation was sparked when she was taken on a plane ride by her neighbor when she was a young girl, said Jannel McCullough, Axton's granddaughter.

Axton went on to obtain a degree from Kansas State University and her pilot's license from Coffeyville Community College through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. She was busy raising her 1-year-old daughter when, in 1943, she was asked to put her piloting skills to use for the U.S. Army Air Force, said Sherry Axton, Micky Axton's daughter-in-law.

Micky Axton became a member of the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, also known as WASP, which was a group of female pilots that helped shuttle airplanes from factories to military bases.

She was motivated to join in part by letters she received from her brother, who was serving as a fighter pilot at Guadalcanal.

"Since she knew how to fly already, she said, 'I wish I could help,' and then she got the letter inviting her to become a WASP," Sherry Axton said.

About 1,000 female pilots served in WASP, said Col. Herb Duncan of the Commemorative Air Force Jayhawk Wing. Female pilots were not allowed to fly combat missions, but they filled important support roles while freeing male pilots for combat duty.

After about a year in the service, Axton returned to Wichita and became a flight test engineer for Boeing.

She later went on to teach science, aeronautics and debate at Wichita East High School.

Although her career no longer involved flying planes, Axton stayed active in the aviation community throughout her life.

She joined the Commemorative Air Force and shared her stories across the country from her time in the Army Air Force. In 2009, Axton and other WASP pilots were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal for their service.

Much of Axton's family, which includes two children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, were in Wichita for the service. McCullough, Axton's granddaughter who lives in Minnesota, said the family appreciated the response of Wichita's aviation and military communities.

"This would have meant the world to her," she said.

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