This lovely lady is our newest Hot Dead Chick in more ways than one—she’s the newest addition to the Weebles family, and she’s also the most recently deceased. She died on October 13, 2009, which makes her the youngest member of the gang.
I have a particular soft spot for her because she was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II. The WASP were civilian women who volunteered to fly military planes in support of the armed forces; while the men were at war there was a shortage of pilots on the homefront, and these women answered the call. They ferried new aircraft from the factories to the air bases, served as test pilots, and taught the fellas a thing or two about having the Right Stuff. I had the privilege of meeting a few of these trailblazing women several years ago when I was working on a museum exhibition about the WASP.
When she joined the WASP in 1943, Tunner had already been a licensed pilot for several years. As a WASP she had the distinction of checking out on the most sophisticated aircraft, including the P-51, P-47, and P-39 fighters and the B-17 and B-24 bombers. Not all of the women were rated to fly all of these planes; Tunner was one of the few. That makes her even hotter, in my not-so-humble opinion.
Now here’s the sucky part. By the end of 1944, a lot of male pilots were coming home from the war and they wanted to take over the work that the WASP were doing. So Congress abruptly and unceremoniously ended the WASP program. And because the WASP were civilians, they received no military benefits after disbanding. To add insult to injury, they had to pay their own way back home. Basically the government said, “You’re on your own, ladies—good luck with that.” Douchebags.
These heroic women were forgotten for more than 30 years. But in 1976, the US Air Force finally started accepting women for flight training and the press referred to them as “the first female pilots.” Former WASP pilots swarmed (you should pardon the pun) the media to set the record straight.
In 1977, Tunner and several of her fellow flygirls went a step further and appeared before Congress to demand that the WASP be acknowledged as a military entity. With the help of Senator Barry Goldwater, who had been a pilot himself during WWII, they succeeded in getting Congress to grant them veteran status with all of the benefits attached. The WASP finally received the recognition that they should have had so many years earlier.
Tunner continued to fly until the end of her life, and her obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch tells a very cool story. For her 78th birthday she was granted special permission to co-pilot an F-15. Before the flight, the pilot asked her if she preferred a conventional takeoff or a rapid takeoff using the fighter jet’s afterburners. She chose the rapid takeoff. Kickass!
Here’s to you, Margaret Ann. You were gorgeous, but more importantly, you got it done. Thank you.