Wings of Gold: The Story of the First Women Naval Aviators, by Beverly Weintraub, Lyons Press, 2021, $ 32.95.
Review by Eileen J. Bjorkman
Little has been written about the women military aviators of the 1970s and 1980s who paved the way for women to fly in combat. Beverly Weintraub’s Wings of Gold begins to overcome that drought. Blending thorough research with firsthand accounts, Weintraub paints a fascinating tale of the first women pilots in the U.S. Navy who eventually succeeded in overturning archaic laws and policies.
Weintraub focuses on the first six women Navy pilots, beginning with their training in 1973. The Navy was the first armed service to train women pilots alongside men, but its narrow interpretation of a federal law limited the women’s career options. The law forbade women from flying aircraft in combat or serving on ships with combat missions. That meant women couldn’t land on an aircraft carrier; the two helicopter pilots in the group couldn’t even hover over a ship. The four other women couldn’t initially train on jets; eventually Rosemary Mariner became the first to fly a tactical jet, although only to train male pilots.
Scattered around the country, the women worked on solving problems on their own. Mariner found a mentor in an African American commander. Some women wrote letters to senior Navy leadership to request additional opportunities. Another woman joined a lawsuit. But the challenges persisted. By the early 1980s, four of the six had left active duty after realizing that the Navy held no future for them.
In 1991, the Persian Gulf War opened the public’s eyes to the fact that women were serving in combat theaters. In 1993 the problematic laws were overturned and the services started training women to fly in combat, although it was too late for the original six. Despite that, Wings of Goldis an inspiring story about strong women who never gave up on their goal of making things better for future generations of women.