From the New York Times: Betty Haas Pfister, a Woman With Wings, Dies at 90
By DENNIS HEVESI
“No, no, you can’t go up!” Betty Haas’s father insisted that day in 1940 when the family went to an air show in Bennington, Vt. But when her parents left, Ms. Haas, then 19, sneaked back to the airfield, paid a dollar and, as she liked to say, “squished into a seat” for a ride on a tiny plane.
It was the first of hundreds of flights that Betty Haas Pfister would make — dozens as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, during World War II, and many more as one of the nation’s most successful female competitive pilots. (And not counting those as a Pan Am stewardess in the days when women had a much harder time getting hired as pilots.)
Ms. Haas Pfister, a two-time winner of the All Women’s International Air Race, died on Nov. 17 at her home in Aspen, Colo., her daughter Suzanne said. She was 90.
After that first flight, Suzanne Pfister said, “Mom made a deal with her father that she would stay in school if he paid for flight lessons.”
By the time she graduated from Bennington College in 1942, Ms. Haas Pfister (she went on to marry Arthur Pfister in 1954) had logged enough flight time to be accepted as a member of the WASPs — an Army Air Forces attachment created to fill the void when male pilots were deployed overseas.
As one of 1,074 WASPs, Ms. Haas Pfister ferried planes from factories to domestic airfields or to ports for shipment overseas. WASPs also towed targets for aerial gunnery practice. Thirty-eight died in accidents. But by December 1944, with the war winding down, the women were deemed no longer needed and the unit was disbanded.
Ms. Haas Pfister found work as an aircraft mechanic and, very occasionally, flying cargo planes. In 1948, for Pan American, she became the first stewardess ever hired with more than 1,000 hours of flight time. “She got to travel all over the world,” her daughter said. “But she’d rather have been in the cockpit any day of the week.”
Several years earlier, Ms. Haas Pfister had paid $750 for an Army surplus P-39 fighter that she named Galloping Gertie. She flew in dozens of air shows and races around the country, and in 1950 she won the All Women’s International Air Race from Montreal to West Palm Beach, Fla. Two years later, she recaptured that title in a flight from St. Augustine, Fla., to Welland, Ontario.
Ms. Haas Pfister received the Elder Statesman of Aviation Award from the National Aeronautic Association in 1994. Ten years earlier, she had been inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame.
Recognition of Ms. Haas Pfister’s wartime contributions, and those of the more than 1,000 other WASPs, came in 2010 when they received the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the country’s two highest civilian honors.
Born on July 23, 1921, in Great Neck, N.Y., and raised in Scarsdale, N.Y., Elizabeth Haas was one of three children of Robert and Merle Haas. Besides her daughter Suzanne, she is survived by two other daughters, Christina and Nancy Pfister; a sister, Priscilla Blum; and five grandchildren. Her husband died in 2008.
One impetus for Ms. Haas Pfister’s passion for flight was her brother, Robert, a Navy pilot during World War II. She had already started taking flight lessons when he was killed in action off the coast of Africa.
After working for Pan Am for four years and moving to Aspen, Ms. Haas Pfister flew gliders and balloons. In 1976 she helped found the Snowmass Balloon Festival in Colorado. In the 1960s she helped organize the Pitkin County Air Rescue Group; she flew helicopters on many rescue missions.
“I’d hate a 9-to-5 job with weekends off,” she told The New York World-Telegram and Sun in 1950. “I had one once, but couldn’t stand it.”