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"American Flygirl" | Reviewed by Susan Ferguson

“American Fly Girl,” by Susan Tate Ankeny,” is a biography that focuses on the life and accomplishments of Hazel Ying Lee, the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license.

Hazel was born in Portland, Oregon’s Chinatown in 1912, one of seven children of Chinese immigrant parents. Hazel grew up idolizing Amelia Earhart, Harriet Quimby, Louise Thaden and Blanche Scott. These women aviators were breaking barriers, showing that women could do more than keep house and have babies.

In 1932, Hazel’s life changed when she attended an air show and met pilot Charles Hanst who offered to give her a ride in his plane. Hazel was hooked; after that she knew that she wanted to become a pilot.

Hanst told Hazel about a new flying school formed for Chinese American pilots that was conveniently located in Portland. The training was free as long as you had a pilot’s license, but unfortunately women could not apply. Hazel was determined to be a pilot and lucky for her Al Greenwood, who believed women could fly, allowed her to attend his newly formed Chinese Flying Club of Portland.

On October 24, 1932 Hazel passed the Department of Commerce pilot’s exam, earning a private pilot’s license. Hazel then volunteered to go to China to join the Chinese Air Force to fend off the invading Japanese. The Chinese government turned her down because she was a woman. She ended up flying for a private airline.

In 1943 she returned to the United States and joined the newly formed WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots. Although they were not allowed to participate in combat, they were responsible for transporting military aircraft across the country, freeing up the male pilots for combat. In 1944 Hazel was one of the first women pilots to fly the Pursuit, a fighter jet.

Hazel loved flying and was known for being funny and entertaining. She was well liked and fiercely determined to overcome the many obstacles she faced; oppression due to the America Chinese Exclusion Act, and discrimination due to being a woman. Hazel was extremely patriotic and was proud to be an American. She was posthumously awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor.  

Although “American Fly Girl” is a biography, it reads like historical fiction providing lots of aviation history during World War II. It is inspirational and leaves you wanting to learn more about Hazel Ying Lee and the other WASP pilots of World War II.


 

 

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