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Bluebonnet AirSho: Former WASP Jane Doyle Still Has Her Wings

Jane Doyle is one of the guests of honor during the 2018 Bluebonnet AirSho on Saturday, Sept. 8 in Burnet. Doyle was among the 1,074 Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. Though they didn’t deploy into combat, the women played a crucial role in test flying aircraft and completing operational checks on aircraft. The Bluebonnet AirSho theme this year is ‘Ladies in Aviation.’ Courtesy photo

BURNET — At 96, Jane Doyle still loves flying airplanes of all kinds, especially vintage ones. Her love of planes started when she was 6 years old and her mother took her to the airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in August 1927 to see Charles Lindbergh and his airplane, the “Spirit of St. Louis.”

Now, almost nine decades later, Doyle, one of the unsung heroes of World War II as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots is coming to the 2018 Bluebonnet AirSho on Saturday, Sept. 8, to share the history of WASP. She’ll be one of the VIPs during the show, which not only highlights the aircraft but the men and women who flew them — and continue to today.

Doyle was born Mildred Jane Baesller in Grand Rapids in 1921. Her love of aviation after seeing Lindbergh stuck with her as a young woman.

She earned her private pilot license at age 18 through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. To maintain her piloting skills, she joined the Civil Air Patrol.

Doyle’s journey to become a WASP began with a telegram in 1942. Jacqueline Cochran, a famous aviator, was recruiting female pilots for the WASP program. More than 25,000 applied, and Doyle was one of the 1,830 accepted.

Doyle had to pay her own way from Michigan to Sweetwater, Texas, since the government didn’t provide transportation. Training, by the U.S. Army Air Force, began in November 1943. WASPs received the same rigorous training as the male cadets. While in Sweetwater, she flew the high-powered AT-6 advanced trainer. The AT-6, known as the Texan, became her favorite airplane.

Of the 1,830 women accepted, 1,074 completed the training and were assigned to 122 air bases in the United States. After graduating in May 1944, Doyle was assigned to Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana. Her assignment was to fly the AT-10, a twin-engine advanced trainer. She also test-flew airplanes and performed maintenance operational check flights.

She earned a reputation for being willing and able to fly almost every airplane that she climbed into. While in Seymour, she met her future husband, Don Doyle, a flight instructor at Freeman Field.

Jane Doyle became fascinated with flying when her mother took her to see Charles Lindbergh and his plane, ‘Spirit of St. Louis,’ when the famous pilot stopped in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Doyle was 6 at the time, but she was struck by the idea of flying and eventually did, becoming a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. She’ll be one of the honored guests during the 2018 Bluebonnet AirSho on Saturday, Sept. 8, in Burnet. Courtesy photo

When male pilots began returning from the war, it was decided that WASPs were no longer needed. They had flown approximately 60 million miles in many different aircraft, including bombers, trainers, and fighters. When they were disbanded in December 1944, with no veteran status, their records were sealed. Each WASP even had to pay her own way home.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter and his administration honored the work of WASP and granted military veteran status to the 1,074 WASPs who had admirably served their country. Finally, the U.S. flag could drape the coffin of a deceased WASP. In 2002, they were given the right to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with honors.

On March 10, 2010, Doyle and about 300 other WASPs were awarded Congressional Gold Medals at the Capitol in Washington D.C.

Jane and Don Doyle were married more than 60 years and had four daughters, one son, 12 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. She worked at Aquinas College and a school for the visually impaired. He passed away in June 2011.

Today, she keeps busy knitting baby hats for hospitals and does quilting to help others. She is an avid and highly competitive bridge player. She is also a talented watercolor artist.

Whenever possible, she attends and speaks at events promoting the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater and sharing the history of WASP with others.

This year, Doyle attended the 75th anniversary celebration of WASP at the museum and was a guest speaker during the opening week of the Women’s Air Races, both of which took place at Avenger Field in Sweetwater.

You can meet Doyle during the 2018 Bluebonnet AirSho (see related story), which is hosted by the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force. Gates at the Burnet Municipal Airport, 2402 U.S. 281 South in Burnet, open at 9 a.m. The air show takes place from 1-4 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission; $10 for ages 60 and older as well as military members with IDs; $5 for ages 6-17; and free for children 5 and younger. Tickets and more information are available at bluebonnetairshow.com.

Go to waspmuseum.org for more about WASP.

Kathy L. Quinlan wrote this article.

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