Gloria Whitton Heath is soft-spoken and unassuming about her contributions not only to the war effort but also to the incredible strides she helped make in the field of search and rescue. Born 7 May 1922, in New York, she graduated from The Putney School in 1939 and Smith College in 1943. Encouraged by her brother, Royal, who was a pilot in the Army Air Forces, Heath applied to the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Of the 25,000 women who applied, she was among the 1,074 who completed the seven months of training. She was stationed at Pocatello, Idaho, where she flew B-26 bombers at 6,000 feet, towing a target, while US Army Air Forces P-47 fighters fired live ammunition.
After the war, Heath contributed prominently to aviation and space safety and rescue activities: initially as a founding member of the Flight Safety Foundation and later as Chairman of the International Safety and Rescue Studies Committee. In 1965, she moved to the Cornell-Guggenheim Safety Center as assistant director. Three years later she founded her own consulting company, SAR-ASSIST, that specialized in the searching for and rescuing passengers in distress on land, at sea, or in the air. In 1968, the Federal Aviation Administration endorsed her recommendation for electronic locator beacons in civil aircraft and, in 1972, it became a requirement. Heath then became the chairman of the International Academy for Astronautics Space Safety and Rescue Committee. Her efforts were critical to the development of today's worldwide satellite search and rescue system and to the United Nations Declaration of the International Decade for Disaster Prevention.
For her amazing contributions, Gloria Heath is one of only eight women elected to membership in the International Academy of Astronautics, has been awarded the Barbour International Air Safety Award (1965), Smith College Medal (1971), Women in Aerospace Lifetime Achievement Award (1995), Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame (1999), one of the most 100 influential women in aviation at the 100th Anniversary of Flight, the Engineering Sciences Award of the International Academy of Astronautics for significant and lasting contributions to the Astronautical Sciences, and the Congressional Gold Medal for WASP (2009).
During World War II, when the Army Air Forces were desperate for pilots due to major combat losses, Gloria Heath answered the call and was accepted into an experimental AAF program to teach females to fly military aircraft. She graduated as a Women Airforce Service Pilot and flew the B-26 as an air-to-air tow target pilot training gunners for combat.