One of America's pioneer female aviators, Dora Dougherty Strother acquired a love for flying during family trips to the local airport as a child. She earned her pilot certificate in 1940 through a CAA-sponsored program known as the Civilian Pilot Training Program. When Jacqueline Cochran got permission to expand the training of women pilots, Dougherty volunteered and was selected for the third class of the WASP program. She graduated on 3 July 1943 and was assigned to Love Field, Texas, as a member of the Ferry Command. Next, she was sent to Camp Davis, North Carolina, where she was checked out as a tow-plane pilot for army antiaircraft gunnery practice.
Later, flying the T-6 Texan and A-20 Havoc at Eglin Army Air Base, Dougherty was one of two WASPs chosen by Colonel Paul Tibbets to demonstrate the safety of the new B-29 Superfortress. After a grueling checkout program, Dougherty and her partner flew the B-29 "Ladybird" to Alamogordo, New Mexico, where they flew many successful demonstrations. From there, she transferred to Grand Island Army Airfield, Nebraska, and then to Wendover, Utah, flying the C-47 Skytrain and C-46 Commando. When the WASP program was deactivated on 20 December 1944, Dougherty had been checked out as pilot-in-command of 23 different aircraft. From 1944 to 1949, she taught civilian pilots and ferried aircraft all over the United States.
Hired by the University of Illinois in 1949 to teach primary, advanced, and instrument flight courses, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Aviation Education from New York University in 1955 and returned to the University of Illinois as Chief Research Pilot until 1957. In 1958, Mrs. Strother transferred to Bell Helicopter as a human factors engineer and learned to fly rotary-winged aircraft--becoming only the 27th woman in the free world to do so. She established feminine world flight records for rotorcraft for altitude and distance that remained until 1966. In 1962, she became Chief of the Human Factors and Cockpit Arrangement Group and was promoted to manager in 1984.
She retired from Bell in 1986. Throughout this period, Strother remained active in the Air Force Reserve, retiring in 1977 as a lieutenant colonel. Among her many awards are the Amelia Earhart Award for academic achievement in aviation and her induction into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame. Well published in both the technical and historical fields, Strother devotes her time to private consulting in human factors engineering and writing about aviation and aviation history.
When several men refused to fly the B-29 Superfortress because it was "dangerous," Dora Dougherty was one of two Womens Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) selected by Colonel Paul Tibbets to prove its capability and airworthiness. On a Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) checkflight in June 1944, Dougherty's engine caught fire and she landed the plane safely. Though the politics of the day only allowed the B-29 demonstration period to run for 2 weeks, Dora Dougherty proved to the world that the B-29 was a safe aircraft and "even a woman could fly it."