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 was passed on to her two daughters and four of her grandchildren who all became pilots.
In 2010, London was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
London was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1991 and subsequently honored in 2006.