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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 4 July 30, 2008     

EAA community mourns loss of WASP
By Barbara A. Schmitz

Margaret Ringenberg

Margaret Ringenberg lived and dreamed flying, so it seems somewhat appropriate that the 87-year-old died in Oshkosh just as EAA AirVenture 2008 began.

A spokeswoman with the Winnebago County Coroner said Ringenberg, of Fort Wayne , Indiana , died at 10:35 a.m. Monday of medical causes at the Jesuit Retreat House where she was staying.

“We loved Margaret and will miss her,” said Dawn Seymour, of Bristol , New York , who also served as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP).

At a get-together Sunday night, Ringenberg was in good spirits. “She was as cheerful and happy as I have ever seen her,” Seymour said. “She was excited about taking third place in the Air Race Classic three weeks ago.”

Plus, Ringenberg always kept informed on the latest aviation technology. “She said, ‘I could fly forever,’” Seymour said.

Seymour said the number of WASP are dwindling with each passing year. “We’re all in our 80s, and I’m 91. It’s no longer a question of if, but when and where we will die.”

In past interviews with AirVenture Today, Ringenberg was always animated as she talked of her days as a member of the WASP. But she was just as animated and excited to talk about her current flying adventures.

By 1994, she had logged 40,000 hours in the air and said, “I haven’t been counting since.” She regularly competed in the Air Race Classic and only missed the 2006 race because she was ill. But she vowed she would race again in 2007, and she did, not only racing but taking fifth place. In 2008, she had placed third.

She completed the Round the World air race in 1994 and raced from London to Sydney in 2001. In June 2002, she and her granddaughter flew to Houston where she addressed the astronauts and others at the Johnson Space Center . But she didn’t just meet the astronauts; she was able to fly their best flight simulators. “And I made two landings without crashing,” she said.

But at AirVenture she was known for her stories of being a WASP.

Her interest in aviation started as a child. In a 2006 interview, Ringenberg said she was 7 or 8 when her family went for a ride in the car and stopped when a plane landed in an adjacent field, and the pilot offered her family a ride. “I sat on my mother’s lap and after that dreamed of becoming a pilot.”

Her dream continued, but as she grew older, she didn’t think girls could fly, so she did the next best thing—went to the airport to learn more about planes.

 Instead she learned women could fly, and she started lessons. But after she earned her certificate, Ringenberg quickly discovered that many people didn’t want to ride with a girl. “I didn’t know what I would do with my ticket.”

Then she got a Western Union telegram, stating her country needed her as a WASP. With a severe shortage of male pilots in 1942, American pilot Jacqueline Cochran convinced military officials that she could bring together women pilots and train them to fly the “Army way” and thus free up America’s male pilots for overseas combat. Nearly 25,000 women volunteered for the job, yet only 1,830 were accepted, and of that only 1,078 graduated and went on to become a member of the WASP, training at Avenger Field near Sweetwater , Texas .

The WASP flew 44 different types of airplanes in all types of weather and conditions. They ferried personnel and hauled cargo, they delivered aircraft from factories to bases and elsewhere, and they test flew new, old, and rebuilt planes and even some planes that male pilots refused to fly. They towed targets for ground-to-air and air-to-air gunnery practice, and they delivered old planes to America ’s junkyards. Simply put, they flew every type of mission the Air Force had except combat.

They flew more than 60 million miles for their country in less than two years, and then, in December 1944, the WASP were disbanded; the women were told to pack their bags and go home.

But Ringenberg didn’t just go home. She kept flying and working as a flight instructor. “One door opened, and doors have been opening for me since,” she said.

Yet she always said she couldn’t imagine her life without the WASP in it. “I was elated with the opportunity to serve my country and fly.”

EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski said the EAA community was saddened by her death. “You’re always sorry to see another member of that generation passing.”

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