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EAA Aviation Museum WASP Exhibit Now Open
March 12, 2020 - EAA welcomed 12-year-old aspiring pilot Taylor Peeff to perform the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, unveiling the museum's newest Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) exhibit on Tuesday.
The exhibit honors thousands of WASP who flew essential missions during World War II, taking aircraft from manufacturing plants to airfields in the U.S. and overseas, towing aerial targets, transporting cargo, and other missions not in combat areas, as women were prohibited from combat duty at that time.
Of the many women honored in the exhibit is the late Ethel Jones Sheffler. The Sheffler family graciously loaned several of Ethel's items to the exhibit, including her logbooks, goggles, certificates, photographs, and a Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Ethel for her service as a WASP.
Ethel was bitten by the flying bug when she spent $1 on her first flight in 1936 over the farm fields of Heyworth, Illinois. She took her first flight lesson in July 1942 at age 21. When she joined the WASP program in December 1943, she already had logged 173 flight hours and went on to log more than 500 more hours in one year as an instrument instructor and ferrying military aircraft.
Sandra Sheffler, Ethel's middle daughter who was present for the grand opening, said the exhibit allowed her to learn more about her mother's service.
"It gave me perspective on what she had accomplished, perspective on what the WASP were in the field of aviation, what they really had done," Sandra said. "They are pretty remarkable people. I guess I saw my mom not as a woman, but as a person who has accomplished a great deal in her life. She raised three kids on her own while she was flying, and learning to fly a helicopter and doing all those things, she was a single mom. That's something I'm really proud of her for."
Ethel's youngest daughter, Linda Sheffler, who was also present at the grand opening of the exhibit, said she hopes the display will inspire the next generation of female aviators.
"It was a turning point for women, one of many turning points during the war where they showed what they could do, which we all know women were very capable, but there were a lot of barriers put in their way," Linda said. "So, to me, this is a piece of history that everybody should know. I think it's important, partly because it's a big part of history that a lot of people don't know about, but also to encourage females that aviation is a very viable career or hobby."
Taylor said it was an honor to be asked to cut the ribbon for the grand opening.
"The [WASP] completed their dream, and their dream was a lot harder than mine because they blazed trails for me so that I wouldn't have to face as hard [of] complications," Taylor said. "It inspires me to go out there and get what I want. Go and grab it and bring it back. You need to fight for your dream."
As Linda and Sandra were talking to each other, they couldn't help but notice the same passion in Taylor that was in their mother, and agreed there was no better person to perform the ribbon cutting.
"You can see aviation, you can smell aviation, you can hear aviation — I just love all of it," Taylor said. "I don't think I could live without aviation. It's one of the things I need. It's like I fly, I get my dose of medicine for the day."
You can visit the exhibit, which will be open through early 2021 and is part of regular museum admission, in the Eagle Hangar's Telling Gallery.