Many considered flying a "man's job" but women such as Barbara Erickson London had the skills and dedication that gave our country the boost it needed to win World War II in the air. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, London entered the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) while at the University of Washington. One of only four women in a class of 40, she quickly soloed and soon received her private license. Pushed on by the thrill of flying, she rapidly earned commercial and instructor ratings. Identified as a superior pilot, London remained at the university as a CPTP instructor. Later, she won the Northwest Region competition for the outstanding CPTP pilot.
In 1942, with the nation at war, London joined the Women's Auxiliary Ferry Squadron, later known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), at Wilmington, Delaware. An original member of the 2d Ferry Group, she trained in Piper Cubs and other aircraft until sent to Long Beach, California, to activate the 6th Ferry Group. London, as squadron commander, organized and trained a cohesive unit, upgrading only the best aviators to more complex aircraft. She classified pilots by aircraft type: single engine, multiengine, light bomber, four engine, or pursuit. London flew the entire range of fighters, bombers, and transports, including the P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, C-54 Skymaster, B-25 Mitchell, and B-17 Flying Fortress .
In 1943, she was awarded the Air Medal by General "Hap" Arnold, commanding general, USAAF, for meritorious achievements in aerial flight and significant contributions as a WASP. Political decisions led to the deactivation of the WASPs in December 1944. This emotional event ended a truly outstanding phase in women's aviation and marked London's temporary separation from the military. In 1948, in recognition of her World War II service, she received a direct commission to major in the Air Force Reserve. Later, Barbara Erickson married Jack London, Jr., whom she had met in the Ferry Command. With him and several other veterans, she formed a new company, United States Aviation, combining a flight school, charter service, and aircraft parts sales, but sold it when the Korean War separated the partners. London then served as executive secretary and board member for the "Powder Puff Derby" the famed all-woman transcontinental air race-an association she continued until the mid-1960s.
Returning to the retail aircraft business, she helped build Barney Frazier Aircraft, Inc. London's aviation legacy is apparent in her two daughters who are also pilots. Terry London Rinehart was the first female pilot hired by Western Airlines in 1975 and retired from Delta after 29 years and Kristy Ardizzone is an executive for Jet Blue. Four of London's grandchildren are also pilots.
By 1943, Allied leaders were screaming for more fighter protection for the European bombing effort. As the nation's aircraft production soared, ferry pilots were pushed to their limits. In response to this increased demand, Major Barbara Erickson London made four 2,000-mile trips delivering P-47, P-51, and C-47 aircraft in just 5 days. For this achievement and her distinguished service as a Women's Army Service Pilot (WASP), she was awarded the Air Medal--the only one awarded to a woman in World War II.