Volume 05, Issue 1
A real trailblazer
Meet Micky Axton, the 1st B-29 woman pilot
BY EVE DUMOVICH
Eighty-seven-year-old Mildred "Micky" Axton is proud to be a colonel in the Commemorative Air Force. She said she's "tickled pink" to be part of aviation history.
In 1929, she was flying aboard a Curtiss Jenny. In 1940, she earned her pilot's license and was the only woman in her class in the Civilian Pilot Training program at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. In 1943, she was one of the first three Women Airforce Service Pilots to be trained as a test pilot as well as a ferry pilot.
In 1944, she was the first woman to pilot a B-29.
At the time, she was a member of the Engineering Flight Test Unit for Boeing in Wichita, Kan., analyzing flight data from B-29s in order to improve their performance. On May 4, 1944, she was one of the crew of nine aboard "Sweet Sixteen," the 16th of 1,644 B-29s rolled out from the Wichita plant.
"I was back in the aft flight blister when Elton Rowley (chief of engineering flight test) called back over the intercom and said, 'Micky, how'd you like to come and fly this thing?' I was just absolutely in hog heaven!" she recalled.
"So I put my parachute on my back and crawled through the tunnel which was over the bomb bay, to the front. He gave me the left seat and I flew the plane," Axton said. "The problem was, it was all so top secret. I could only tell my husband." Rowley did write a letter, however, verifying her feat.
Born, Jan. 18, 1919, in Coffeyville, Kan., Axton took her first plane ride when she was 9 years old in the Curtiss Jenny owned by the barnstorming Flying Circus Inman brothers, who lived down her street. She learned to fly in 1940 while working as a chemistry teacher at Coffeyville Community College.
In 1943, although she was married and the mother of 1-year-old Carol, she joined Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Her motivation came from a letter she received from her brother Ralph, who was serving as a U.S. fighter pilot in Guadalcanal.
"He told me that 18 of the bunch of 20 he went down with had been killed. I knew I had to do something to help," she said.
Axton made arrangements for her parents to take care of Carol. With the full support of her husband, Wayne, she headed to Sweetwater, Texas, about 200 miles west of Houston, for the WASP training program, class of 43-W-7.
"After the basic trainers, we went on to North American's AT-6, which was a fighter-trainer--we just loved that plane--and the twin-engine Cessna," Axton said. "We learned to fly on instruments at night because we were going to fly everything the Air Force had. We tested and ferried planes. Some of us instructed. I became one of the first engineering test pilots."
Axton, assigned to Pecos Army Base, Texas, resigned from WASP in April 1944, and returned to Kansas to work for Boeing when her mother became too ill to take care of Carol.
In any case, the controversial WASP program was deactivated Dec. 20, 1944. Its records were sealed and stored as classified material for more than 30 years. It was not until May 21, 1979, that WASP members received retroactive status as military veterans. During their service, they delivered more than 12,000 aircraft and logged more than 60 million miles in more than 70 types of airplanes, including Douglas and Boeing bombers. Eleven were killed during training and 27 more died during active duty.
Today, Axton is active with a variety of aviation organizations and has been a featured speaker at dozens of air shows and events. In October 1991, she flew the B-29 again, taking the restored B-29 "Fifi" to the Commemorative Air Force in Wichita. In 1998, the Jayhawk Wing of the Commemorative Air Force named its restored World War II Fairchild PT-23 "Miss Micky" in her honor. In 1990, she was the first woman guest speaker at the graduation of U.S. Navy and Marine pilots.
Axton believes that anybody can do anything that "they set out to do." Her advice to young people: "If you have a dream, especially if you want to fly, there are a lot of older people that will point you in the right direction. Just talk to people. You'll get free help."
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