Cornelia Fort Airport
Cornelia Fort (1919-43), Nashville’s first woman flying instructor volunteer, Army’s WAFS, WWII, was the first woman pilot to die on war duty in American history. “I am grateful that my one talent, flying, was useful to my country.” she wrote shortly before her death. Miss Fort was lost in a crash over Texas flying a basic-trainer plane, BT 13-A, across the United States.
Historical Commission of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County
Marker reads the same on both sides.
Abbreviated biography of Cornelia Fort from the PBS web site:
On December 7th, 1941 Cornelia Fort, a young civilian flight instructor from Tennessee, and her regular Sunday-morning student took off from John Rodgers Airport in Honolulu. With the novice at the controls, Fort noticed a military aircraft approaching from the sea. At first that didn't strike her as unusual; Army planes were a common sight in the skies above Hawaii. But at the last moment, she realized this aircraft was different and that it had set itself on a collision course with her plane. She wrenched the controls from her student's grasp and managed to pull the plane up just in time to avoid a mid-air crash. As she looked around she saw the red sun symbol on the wings of the disappearing plane and in the distance, probably not more than a quarter mile away, billowing smoke was rising over Pearl Harbor. The disbelieving Fort had just unwittingly witnessed the U.S. entry into World War II. A little more than a year after this near miss, Fort would be flying military aircraft for the U.S. and a mid-air collision would tragically make her the first American woman to die on active military duty.
Around the time Dr. Fort died in the spring of 1940, Fort took her first flying lesson. She was instantly addicted. Within a year Cornelia had become the first female flight instructor in Nashville. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Pilots Training Program, she took a flight instructor's job at Fort Collins, Colorado. Then in the fall of 1941, she was hired to teach defense workers, soldiers and sailors to fly in Hawaii.
Fort was invited to join a select group of American women who would fly with the Royal Air Force Air Transport Auxiliary in Britain. Fort couldn't accept the offer because she wasn't back in the continental U.S. in time, but in the fall of 1942 she was one of a handful of women to receive another invitation for service in the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command.
The female pilots in the newly established squadron, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service, or WAFs as they were known, were hired to fly planes from factories to military air bases.
Fort flew for her country for just a few brief months. On March 21, 1943, she was one of a number of pilots, both male and female, who had been assigned to ferry BT-13s to Love Field in Dallas Texas. During the course of that mission, one of the men's landing gear clipped Fort's airplane, sending it plummeting to earth. Fort didn't have time to parachute to safety. Her commanding officer, sent a compassionate letter back to the young pilot's mother: "My feeling about the loss of Cornelia," wrote Nancy Love, "is hard to put into words -- I can only say that I miss her terribly, and loved her...If there can be any comforting thought, it is that she died as she wanted to -- in an Army airplane, and in the service of her country."
Despite the words of sympathy, Fort and the other 37 female pilots who died flying military planes during the war, received no military recognition. The army didn't even pay for their burial expenses because the women were considered civilians. Fort's achievements as a military pilot are commemorated by an airpark named after her that was built in 1945 near her family farm. Her own words on an historical marker at the site simply and modestly sum up her wartime contribution: "I am grateful" she wrote, "that my one talent, flying, was useful to my country."
More information on Cornelia Fort:
Trivia: Cornelia Fort Airport was the final destination of the plane carrying Patsy Cline which crashed at N 36 03.676 W088 09.684.