Florene Miller Watson was one of the original members of the Women's Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS), later known as the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), and one of its first commanding officers. Born in 1920 in San Angelo, Texas, Watson's interest in flying started at the age of eight when her father bought her a ride in an open-cockpit barnstormer. In 1940, while she was at Baylor University, her father purchased a Luscombe airplane so the family could learn how to fly. He predicted the United States would go to war against Germany and he wanted his eldest children to contribute to the war effort as aviators.
Over the next two years, Watson obtained her commercial license, trained in aerobatics, and earned her instructor rating in both ground school courses and in flight. She taught many civilian men in the classroom and in the air who were enrolled in the government-sponsored War Training Programs. On 10 September 1942, the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) created the WAFS. Its mission was to transport aircraft from the factory to point of embarkation, freeing male pilots for combat duties. Watson joined the following month. (The following year, the WAFS merged with the Women's Flying Training Detachment to form the WASPs.) Applicants were required to have a commercial license and 500 flying hours, double what the USAAF required for men. However, Watson, like most of the other women, had over 1,000.
After her initial checkout in Wilmington, Delaware, in a Fairchild PT-19 Cornell, she was assigned as the first commanding officer in charge of women pilots at the 5th Ferry Group at Love Field, Texas. By the time the WASPs were deactivated in 1944, Watson had expanded her flying experience by piloting every USAAF fighter and bomber built by the US aircraft industry during World War II, including the Lockheed P-38F Lightning and her favorite, the North American P-51D Mustang. She also served as a pioneer test pilot, assessing radar equipment prior to its operational use overseas, and was one of only two women evaluated by the military to become airline pilots based on their skills in the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.
After her service with the WASPs, Watson continued her education and obtained her Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of Houston. She then taught college for 30 years before retiring. Today, Watson is an active member of numerous organizations to include the Texas Aviation Historical Society, the Ninety-Nines, and the Confederate Air Force. She has been serving as the National Chaplain of the WASPs organization for the last 13 years. In addition, she actively speaks around the country, educating audiences about aviation history.
During World War II, a handpicked group of young women pilots became military aviation pioneers, national heroines, and role models. These WASPs flew their way into the annals of history as the first women ever trained to fly American military aircraft. Despite making an invaluable contribution to the war effort, the WASPs were deactivated in 1944 without its members earning military status. It wasn't until 1977 that this injustice was corrected.