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Daughter of the Air:

The Brief Soaring Life of Cornelia Fort

Paperback (246 pages)
In a remarkable coincidence of fate, Cornelia Fort was flying over Oahu on the morning of December 7, 1941, and was one of the few to witness the bombing of Pearl Harbor from the air.

Daughter of the Air:

In Daughter of the Air, Rob Simbeck paints a vivid portrait of Army pilot Cornelia Fort — a passionate, brave, intelligent, and charming woman — and provides insight into the political and social atmosphere of her era. He cites Fort’s letters and diaries, various historical documents, and interviews of people who knew her personally and also flew with her.

Cornelia Fort’s (1919-1943) barrier-breaking life included membership in the first trained women’s flight squadron, the WAFS. In a remarkable coincidence of fate, she was flying over Oahu on the morning of December 7, 1941, and was one of the few to witness the bombing of Pearl Harbor from the air. Her brief career was marked by the prejudices of the era toward women pilots.

Raised on her parent’s Nashville estate and educated at a prestigious finishing school, Fort cast off her role as a member of Southern aristocracy to become a pilot. She persevered in her courageous career despite rampant prejudice toward women, noting "because there were and are so many disbelievers in women pilots, especially in their place in the Army, all of us realized what a spot we were in. We had to deliver the goods or else." Tragically, it was a male pilot’s practical joke that clipped her wing and sent Fort into a fatal spin. This biography is a must read for historians, military specialists, or those interested in the role of women in the military.

Women pilots of World War II...

Related Scanning WWII links...

  • 28 Jun 39 - Britain's Women's Auxiliary Air Force is formed
  • 11 Jan 40 - Britain's Women's Section of ATA delivers first airplane
  • 01 Jun 41 - WASP Mildred "Mickey" Tuttle marries
  • 21 Mar 43 - WAFS/WASP Cornelia Fort killed in service
  • 20 Apr 43 - Soviet Aces Katya Budanova, Lydia Litvyak
  • 03 Jul 43 - WASP Ann Baumgartner Carl graduates
  • 19 Jul 43 - Soviet Ace Yekaterina "Katya" Budanova KIA
  • 01 Aug 43 - Top scoring Soviet Ace Lydia Litvyak KIA
  • 05 Aug 43 - WFTD and WAFS merge to form WASPs
  • 28 Feb 44 - German test pilot Hanna Reitsch
  • 03 Apr 44 - WASP Evelyn Sharp killed in service
  • 16 Sep 44 - Maureen Dunlop of Britain's ATA
  • 02 May 45 - WASP Ann Baumgartner marries

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Cornelia Fort and the Attack on Pearl Harbor...

Scene depicting Cornilia Fort from
the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!

Among the memorable scenes in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! is a short depiction of Cornelia Fort, a civilian instructor pilot at an airfield near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, giving a flying lesson on the morning of December 7th, 1941, as the Japanese were making their way to Pearl Harbor. The film couldn't take the time to delve into the whole story of her encounter with the attacking force that day, but at least she was mentioned.

Cornelia Fort quickly took over the controls and landed her plane at John Rodgers civilian airport near the mouth of Pearl Harbor, but was pursued by a Zero that strafed the plane and runway as she and her student ran for cover. The airport manager was killed.

Two other civilian planes did not return that morning, both washing ashore days later, riddled with bullet holes.

Many online sources credit the actress portraying Cornelia Fort in this film as none other than Vivian Vance, best known for her role as sidekick Ethyl Mertz in the classic TV sitcom I Love Lucy. Unfortunately, that is not true. Cornelia was played by character actress Jean "Jeff" Donnell. But she sure looked and sounded like Vivian.

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