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Posts Tagged ‘WASPs’

“The whole meaning of history is in the proof

that there have lived people before the present time

whom it is important to meet.”

–Eugene Rosenstock Huessy

 

Betty Greene (1920-1997) is one of them.

 

Eight year-old Betty sat close to the radio, listening intently to the news all America wanted to hear on May 21, 1927: Charles Lindbergh had landed his tiny plane safely in Paris. He had flown nonstop for thirty-three hours and thirty minutes  to cross the Atlantic Ocean. He was the first person to do so. As a result, Charles Lindbergh became a hero to many Americans, including young Betty.

 

 

The next year, she followed the exploits of Amelia Earhart. In June of 1928, Ms. Earhart also flew nonstop across the Atlantic, from Newfoundland to Wales.

 

 

“That’s what I want to do someday—fly airplanes!” Betty asserted. And she began to dream of her own adventures in the sky.

By the time Betty was old enough for flying lessons, however, the Great Depression had settled over the country. Her mom and dad needed every dime to provide necessities for their family of six. Flying lessons were an unaffordable luxury.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Betty received an envelope from one of her uncles. Inside was one hundred dollars—a small fortune at that time. Betty immediately made arrangements for flying lessons.

Not that she could expect to become a commercial pilot. That career was reserved for men in the 1930s. Unless Betty took up stunt aviation, she would have to be content to fly as a hobby—if she could afford access to a plane.

An elderly family friend suggested a creative possibility. Betty might be able to serve as a missionary pilot. “Think of all the time—and sometimes lives—that could be saved if missionaries didn’t have to spend weeks hacking their way through jungles,” she said.

Immediately Betty knew. This is what God wanted her to do.

Before Betty had a chance to pursue such a radical idea, World War II began. Early in the conflict, it became apparent the number of Air Force pilots was inadequate. It was determined that women could be trained to handle some tasks, freeing up men for combat assignments.

Betty was perfectly suited to become a WASP in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and she was readily accepted into the program.

 

 

Soon she was flying planes from the manufacturing site to military bases and departure points for overseas. She towed aerial targets for soldiers to gain artillery practice—with live ammunition (so say some sources).  And Betty flew missions at high-altitudes, to assist in the development of needed technology for such flights.

Betty’s dream to be a missionary pilot seemed to be on hold as the war continued, but God was about to do immeasurably more than all she could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

While serving as a WASP, Betty wrote two articles for two different Christian magazines about using planes to help missionaries. Three American pilots read the articles and wrote to Betty about their idea to start just such an organization, once the war ended.

On May 20, 1945, the Christian Airmen’s Missionary Fellowship began operation in Los Angeles. Later the name was changed to Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF)—perhaps because their first pilot was not an airman at all. It was Betty.

 

(Preparing for the inaugural flight, February, 1946)

 

That first flight included two women missionaries in need of transportation from southern California to Mexico City, a three-day trip.

On the first leg Betty noticed something coming off the engine, so she made an unscheduled landing at Tuxpan, Mexico to have the plane inspected. The debris turned out to be just flaking paint. Meanwhile the two missionaries made their way to Mexico City on a commercial flight.

Betty and a new passenger, Cameron Townsend (founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators) left Tuxpan for Tuxla Gutierrez, near the Wycliffe Jungle Camp. Along the route Betty stopped in Minatitlan to refuel and then they were off again. However, a heavy storm developed, and they were forced to turn back.

As they headed toward Minatitlan, another setback occurred:  the engine died. Betty kept her head and switched gas tanks, then re-fired the engine. The tactic worked. She and Mr. Townsend safely returned to Minatitlan. Later she discovered that water in the fuel tank had caused the engine to fail.

The next morning, they finally reached Tuxtla. The three-day flight had taken one week. But the troublesome beginnings did not discourage Betty.

She went on to serve as an MAF pilot for sixteen years–in spite of more mishaps, emergency landings on rivers and at least one crash.  She completed 4,640 flights, served in twelve countries, and touched down in another twenty.

Her responsibilities included ferrying aircraft and delivering missionaries, dignitaries, and cargo to remote areas. She also saved lives by transporting ill or injured patients from inaccessible locations back to civilization and medical care.

 

(Betty, center left, in Papua, Indonesia)

 

In 1962 Betty transitioned from pilot-in-the-field to representative-and-recruiter for MAF, serving as an advocate for the organization until her death in 1997.

Today, MAF operates 132 aircraft in more than 25 countries worldwide.

 

(Sites of MAF Bases)

 

 

And it all began with a little girl who dreamed of flying.

 

Sources:  www.dianawaring.com; http://www.footprintsintoafrica.com; http://www.maf.org; http://www.maf-uk.org; http://www.mnnonline.org.

 

Photo credits:  www.flickr.com (2), http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.maf.org (3).

 

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