Florene Miller Watson was one of only 25 women selected for the original Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), later known as the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), and the first commander of the WAFS/WASPs at Love Field, Texas. She became fascinated with planes at the age of eight, and by age 19 had finished flight school and obtained her private and commercial pilot licenses. Watson quickly received her instructor's rating and was teaching men to fly in the War Training Program in Odessa and Lubbock, Texas when WWII began. She turned 21 on the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and volunteered for Army service soon afterward.
When the Army opened a search for women with 500 hours of flying time, double the men's standard for Army pilots, Watson volunteered and was selected to become a pilot in the Ferrying Division. The initial cadre of WAFS averaged over 1,100 flying hours when they volunteered and were considered civilian volunteers with officer status. Their duties included ferrying aircraft from manufacturing plants to Army Air Force bases, allowing qualified male pilots to remain available for combat duty. During this period, Watson was one of the first to fly most combat types, including the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the North American P-51 Mustang. In 1943, Watson became the first commanding officer of the WAFS/WASPs at Love Field, Texas.
She flew over 60 different aircraft types, including almost every kind of twin and four-engine bomber, training, cargo, and pursuit aircraft used by the Army Air Forces. Serving as a pioneer test pilot, Watson assessed radar equipment in 1944, prior to its operational use overseas. Additionally, she served as one of only two women whose capabilities were evaluated by the military to become airline pilots. After the war, Watson earned her Master's Degree in Business Administration and was a college educator for 30 years. Though it took 33 years for the women pilots of WWII to be militarized, in 1977 over 1,000 WASPs were recognized with an honorable discharge as veterans of the Armed Forces.
Watson is the recipient of a number of special honors including the first woman to be inducted into the Panhandle Veterans Hall of Fame. In 1997, she was invited by the United States Air Force Academy to dedicate a bronze statue representing the WASPs, and in December 2001, she was presented the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Medal of Honor for her outstanding service, leadership, and patriotism. Watson is actively involved in her community and serves as the National Chaplain of the WASP organization. Currently, Mrs. Watson lives in Borger, Texas with Chris, her husband of 57 years.
During WWII, a hand-picked group of young women pilots became military aviation pioneers, national heroines, and role models; they were known as Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). These ladies flew their way into the annals of history as the first women ever trained to fly American military aircraft. Mrs. Watson was one of the first 25 women to qualify as a WASP. By the end of WWII, she'd flown nearly every type of aircraft used by the U.S. Army Air Forces, one of her favorites being the P-47 Thunderbolt.