Aviation pioneer in Las Vegas

  • Published
  • By Gerald White
  • 99th Air Base Wing Historian
During World War II, aviation opportunities literally exploded as the military trained hundreds of thousands of individuals to fly, opening the door to many who might never have had the chance before. Among this group were women pilots, many of whom trained and flew as civil service pilots with the Army Air Forces. This group, designated as Women's Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs, was only in existence from September 1942 through December 1944 when they were disbanded by Congress.

WASPs did a lot of the unglamorous, tedious and even dangerous flying jobs; everything from flying new airplanes from factories to depots and towing targets for student gunners as some did at the Las Vegas Air Corps Gunnery School.

The first 28 women were hired with extensive experience, but prior to WW II, women with instructor or multi-engine ratings were few and far between.

As a result, a flight training program was established in Houston, later moving to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, to train women in the Army's way of flying. Except for gunnery and formation flying, which authorities felt they didn't need, women went through essentially the same training course as male cadets did with Army pilots giving check rides. After graduation, they were assigned across the U.S. wherever service pilots were needed.

Women who applied and were selected needed a private pilot's license and at least 50 hours of flying time. Many women were able to get this through the Civilian Pilot Training Program, first established in 1939 with 10 percent of the openings reserved for women. As many as 25,000 women applied for WASP training with 1,830 applicants accepted and 1,074 graduating the course.

Margaret "Gee Mei Gue" Gee, was one of only two Chinese-Americans to fly with the WASPs. Born in Berkeley, California, her widowed mother raised her and five siblings and she spent many hours growing up watching airplanes at the Oakland Airport. She started college at University of California Berkeley, but dropped out early during WW II  to work as a draftsman at the Mare Island Naval Yard. She saved $800 for six months of ground school and flying lessons at Minden Airport in Nevada because most private aviation in California was closed during the war.

After earning her pilot's license and getting accepted for WASP training, she returned to Mare Island until called for training at Sweetwater.

Gee was assigned to the WASP flight at Las Vegas Army Air Field after graduation in September 1944, working as a civil service pilot.

Las Vegas AAF had B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-25 Mitchell's modified to tow targets and AT-6 Texans. She flew as a B-17 and TB-25 co-pilot on gunnery training missions and as an instrument instructor for pilots returning from combat who needed their instrument rating recertified.  She only flew for three months because Congress killed the program on Dec. 20, 1944.

Gee returned to Berkeley and finished a degree in Business Administration. She then traveled and managed a military service club in Europe for several years before returning and getting hired at Lawrence Livermore Lab as an early computer programmer, writing and testing code for many of the research projects there.

Living in Berkeley, she also became active in local and California politics. She was one of the WASPs who were able to travel to Washington, D.C. to receive the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the WASPs on March 10, 2010. She passed away on February 1, 2013.