Exhilarating AIRSHO both recounts and makes history

When U.S. military flight training programs first expanded to accept women in the early 1970s, the pilots were heralded as the first American women to fly military aircraft.

Only problem was that they were not the first.

That coveted distinction goes to roughly 1,000 Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, who served during WWII amidst a shortage of male pilots, helping to ferry aircraft and fly equipment and personnel to support the war effort. By the early 1970s, about 600-700 original WASPs remained alive, and they were none too happy to hear that their service from three decades earlier had been overlooked.

“So they started fighting to get veterans recognition,” said Ann Haub, Collections Director for the National WASP WWII Museum.

The spirit of the WASP was alive and well here in the Permian Basin the weekend of Sept. 10-11. The 32nd Annual High Sky Wing Commemorative Air Force (CAF) AIRSHO thrilled thousands of aviation fans at Midland International Air & Space Port. The show simultaneously paid tribute to pioneering women aviators and also the Permian Basin’s proud legacy of producing the aviation fuel and pilots that ensured an allied victory during WWII.

Kellie Hudson, the nation’s first certified female Air Boss.

Presented by Chevron, this year’s AIRSHO was captained by Kellie Hudson, the nation’s first certified female Air Boss. Pilot Denise Walker performed alongside the men. It was her first ever flight in an AIRSHO.

““I am a warbird girl, privileged to be able to walk in the footsteps of those who pioneered aviation,” Walker proudly stated in an interview on the evening before takeoff.

Three former Chevron employees — Margaret Neyman, Margrete McGrath and Mary Gosnell — were among those who graduated from the WASP program. Neyman would later call that period “the greatest portion of my life.”

“And it took me about two years to get over that when we were deactivated,” Neyman said.

Ann Haub was among the representatives of the National WASP WWII Museum who posted up inside the CAF hangar during AIRSHO to spread the word to local families about the legacy of women pilots. Meanwhile above the tarmac outside, AIRSHO pilots flying vintage military planes reenacted 80-year-old battle scenes as ground-level pyrotechnics simulated bomber-caused explosions.

The show further exhibited the death-defying acrobatic feats of popular stunt pilot Mike “Spanky” Galloway, who also serves as AIRSHO MC. Jerry McCart drove a jet-powered semi-truck that shot back flames as it screamed down the runway. Randy Ball, Bill Culberson and Michael Terfehr rocketed through the skies in high-subsonic MiG-17F fighter planes. They were among a sizable group of skilled pilots that make AIRSHO an exhilarating example of living history.

AIRSHO additionally serves to inspire the pilots and energy innovators of the future. Attendees young and old were able to get up close to vintage planes in the CAF hangar, chat with current and veteran military members, drive remote controlled robotic vehicles, and visit the Chevron STEM Zone, where they participated in fun activities that also offered lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“As one of the nation’s largest and oldest all-volunteer produced airshows, AIRSHO pays tribute to our veterans and celebrates life in the Permian Basin,” said Gena Linebarger, AIRSHO director.

Linebarger joined pilots in thanking Chevron for sponsoring the event so that experiencing this thrilling history is both affordable and accessible to all in the Permian Basin.

“We are so proud to be part of an event that brings together our community to celebrate and remember such important, impactful and transformational moments in American history,” said Nicole Barber, Public and Government Affairs Manager at Chevron’s Mid-Continent Business Unit.

Midland Mayor Lori Blong further noted the symbolism of the event happening just before the anniversary of 9/11. The mayor said it provides an opportunity to express gratitude and appreciation “for the people who served to provide us the freedom that we have.”

“AIRSHO’s staff, donors, volunteers, first responders, military members and the many who work in the local oil and gas industry make it all possible,” Barber said.Without all of you coming together, these planes would not be in the air today.”