Betty Skelton

An issue of Look magazine from 1960 shows aviation pioneer Betty Skelton, whom the magazine was promoting as the first female U.S. astronaut.

Pictured is a poster for “W.A.S.P.: A Wartime Experiment in Womanpower,” a documentary on female pilots in World War II.

LONDONDERRY — The female fliers in the U.S. armed forces helped their nation win World War II. And they did it in spite of intense prejudice.

In honor of Women in Aviation Month, all are welcome to join the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire for a free screening of the 2018 documentary “W.A.S.P.: A Wartime Experiment in Womanpower” on Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m.

As an added attraction at the screening, Aviation Museum volunteer Glenda Fischer of Hampstead will present on aeronautics pioneer Betty Skelton, who in 1960 was touted on the cover of Look magazine as a candidate for the nation’s first female astronaut.

A discussion of the documentary and the issues it raises will take place afterwards.

Organized during World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S.P.) were the first female pilots to fly American military aircraft. Because society held the view that women did not belong in a cockpit, these women had to overcome many challenges before ultimately proving themselves up to the task of flying complex modern aircraft.

Although they faced a military unwilling to include them, the perseverance and dedication the W.A.S.P. possessed allowed them to serve their country in a time of great need, blazing a path for generations of women who would follow them into aircraft cockpits and male-dominated careers everywhere.

Ultimately, only 1,074 women could call themselves members of W.A.S.P., and their stories provide an inspirational lesson about the power of self-confidence and determination, according to the filmmakers, who scoured the nation to interview surviving members. The result is a compelling look at an often-overlooked chapter in the history of aviation and World War II.

“Gender bias remains an issue in aviation today,” said Jeff Rapsis, executive director of the Aviation Museum. “The women in this documentary were true pioneers, and women today continue the battle, either on their own or through advocacy groups such as the Ninety-Nines, an all-female pilot organization. It’s a timely look at an important topic.”

As of Dec. 31, 2017, a total of 42,694 active pilot certificates were held by women in the U.S., or just 7 percent of the total, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In the airline sector, 6,994 women held FAA certificates as airline pilots, representing just 4.4 percent of the total.

The Aviation Museum of New Hampshire is a 501©(3) organization dedicated to preserving aviation history in the Granite State, providing educational outreach programs that encourage student interest in aeronautics and related fields, and organizing programs that bring together the state’s diverse aviation community.

The Museum is located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry. For more information, call (603) 669-4280 or visit www. aviationmuseumofnh.org.