Elizabeth “Betty” Wall Strohfus
WASP, Class 44-W-1
“But what I loved was that the planes I flew never asked if you were a man or a woman; they flew just as well for me as anyone else.”
November 15, 1919 – March 6, 2016
Born Elizabeth Bridget (“Betty”) Wall in Faribault, Strohfus was a tomboy always looking for adventure. After graduating from high school in 1937, she worked at the register of deeds office in the county courthouse, but found it to be stifling work. In school, the course selection was limited for women. “I couldn’t take any classes except home economics or classes for working in an office – like shorthand, typing and that sort of thing.” Strohfus was not interested in those things.
One day, she overheard someone discussing flying. She became intrigued, and when offered a chance to learn to fly, she jumped at it. She spent her afternoons after work at the Faribault airport and learned from pilots in the local flying club. She got so good that she was asked to replace a male pilot when he left for military service. She needed to take out a loan to cover the $100 it cost her to join but then saw an ad for the WASPs and quickly logged the required 35 hours in the air.
She applied along with about 25,000 other women. Of that number, only 1,047 made the cut — including Strohfus, who trained to fly every aircraft and simulate enemy fights in mock air combat with U.S. bombers. Elizabeth Wald Strohfus trained to fly every aircraft. “The planes … never asked if you were a man or a woman.”
During 1943 and 1944, Strohfus was sent to a U.S. Army air gunnery school in Las Vegas to help train men for in-flight combat. Her job was to dive an AT-6 Avenger fighter-trainer onto formations of B-17 bombers to give the gunners target practice, using special cameras in place of guns.
She towed cloth sleeves behind her plane so the bombers’ gunners could practice with live ammunition. A couple of fellow WASPs died that way, among the 38 WASPs who died during the war in crashes and other accidents. Strohfus also trained men to fly by instrument. A few of them didn’t think a woman could handle a plane.
“It was just something you had to put up with,” she told the Star Tribune in 1991. “But what I loved was that the planes I flew never asked if you were a man or a woman; they flew just as well for me as anyone else.”
The WASPs were disbanded in December 1944. Her application to become a pilot at Northwest Airlines was rejected. Instead, she became an aircraft controller in Wyoming. She then moved back to Faribault, where she married and had children.
Strohfus began speaking about her experience as a member of WASP and a female aviator beginning in the 1980s. In 1991, she became one of the first women to pilot a F-16 when she was 71-years old. Strohfus later flew as a passenger for a 4.5 Gs acrobatic plane ride when she was 95 years old.
Strohfus died from complications from a fall at the Milestone Senior Living Center in Faribault, Minnesota, on March 6, 2016, at the age of 96.
On June 24, 2017, the field at the Faribault Municipal Airport was renamed the “Liz Wall Strohfus Field” in her honor.