Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tulsan, decorated WASP pilot Betty Riddle dies at 88


From Tulsa World: Tulsan, decorated WASP pilot Betty Riddle dies at 88


Betty Riddle of Tulsa holds her Congressional Gold Medal, which she and her fellow WASP pilots received in 2010. Riddle, who served with the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II, died June 8. She was 88. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World file
Betty Riddle of Tulsa holds her Congressional Gold Medal, which she and her fellow WASP pilots received in 2010. Riddle, who served with the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II, died June 8. She was 88. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World file
From her pilot's seat, Betty Riddle looked to the west and saw them: the snow-capped mountains of Colorado.


It was a stirring moment for the 20-year-old.

Before joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, she had never been outside of Oklahoma. Now, as a WASP trainee, not only was she living out her dream of flying, she was getting to serve her country at the same time.

Initiated during World War II to free male pilots for combat, the program trained civilian female pilots to fly military aircraft in noncombat situations.

Riddle, who had gotten her pilot's license a year earlier, knew that she wanted to do it as soon as she heard about it.

"I wanted to do what I could," the Tulsa resident told the Tulsa World in 2010 upon returning from Washington, D.C., where she and other surviving WASPs had been honored.

"It was the one thing I knew how to do. My two brothers were younger. They couldn't join. So I was the oldest. I wanted to do what I could to help win the war."

Betty Ferrol Riddle, who along with her fellow WASPs was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2010 for the group's part in the war effort, died June 8 in Claremore. She was 88.

A private family service will be held under direction of Musgrove-Meriott-Smith Funeral Service of Claremore.

Riddle grew up around planes, often helping out her father, a mechanic who worked on airplanes at the airport in Wetumka.

Her first airplane ride was when she was 8 - she went up in a barnstormer's Ford Trimotor at the state fair. From then on, she knew she wanted to fly.

Riddle made her first solo flight before she could drive a car.

Earning her pilot's license by age 19, she began training for the WASPs the next year in Sweetwater, Texas, making flights to New Mexico and Colorado.

Twenty-five thousand women applied during the war for the WASPs, a program directed by the Army Air Forces.

Only about 1,800 were accepted, and of those, only a little more than a thousand passed training, becoming the first women ever to fly American military aircraft.

Riddle became one of their elite number in 1944. She was assigned to Altus Air Force Base, where she flight tested twin-engine Cessna aircraft.

The experience was short-lived for her, however. Just six weeks after she graduated - with the war winding down and the need for pilots decreasing - the WASP program was deactivated.

Through the war's end, Riddle worked for Douglas Aircraft as an inspector. After that, she took a job ferrying military aircraft to sites for their conversion into cropdusters.

Meeting her husband, Howard, during that time, she later devoted herself to being a mother, raising their three children.

Later in life, Riddle became active in several aviation organizations, including serving as district director for a group of former WASPs. She was a life member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots.

Getting to go to Washington for the medal presentation in 2010 was exciting for Riddle.

Her good friend and fellow former WASP, Betty Smith of Tulsa, was with her at the event. Smith died in June 2011.

Riddle and the other women confessed that they had been a little disappointed when the WASP program was deactivated.

"There's an empty spot there that only flying will fill," Riddle said.

Riddle's survivors include a daughter, Susan Hilton; two sons, Steven Riddle and Dan Riddle; one brother, Jack Martin; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
 

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