Monday, December 6, 2010

Velta Haney Benn, 44-7 Dec 1. 2010


Velta was born in Vienna, Virginia, where she grew up with a love of aviation.
When she learned of America’s  desperate need for military pilots,  and the Army Air Forces’  recently enacted  training program to teach women pilots to fly military aircraft ‘the Army way,’ she applied for the program. She was one of ninety eight women pilots from all over America who was accepted as a member of class 44-7 and reported for training to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. 
After 7 months of the Army Air Forces’ flight training, she graduated with fifty eight of her classmates on 8 September 1944.
Velta was then stationed at Merced Army Air Field in California.  There she flew At-6s as an administrative pilot, flying personnel from one base to another, as well as flying  BT-13s on observation flights and as an instrument instructor, teaching AAF male pilots how to fly by instruments alone.  She remained there until the WASP were disbanded on 20 December, 1944.
After hanging up her WASP parachute,   Velta worked in different aviation related jobs, helping to produce aviation training films, researching safety and landing procedures off carriers for the Navy, and was  an FAA accident prevention counselor.  In addition, she was an FAA pilot examiner for private, commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings, with over 27,000 flight hours to her credit.
In 1983,  Velta Benn was inducted into the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame, and on March 10, 2010, she, together with  1,101 WASP peers, was awarded the CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL, the highest  honor  Congress can give a civilian.
On December 1, 2010, Velta passed away at her residence in Alexandria, Virginia, less than 20 miles from where she grew up and learned to fly.     She was ninety three years old.
Velta is survived by her children:   Delmar "Del" Haney, Lynne Ratz, Laura Benn, Bonnie Martinez, Terri Gentry and Dawn Bauer; two sisters, Narcissa Newcome and Mary Tucker.  She is cherished by every member of her family, including  her six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.  She will never be forgotten by her WASP classmates and friends.
This special WASP leaves a unique  aviation legacy, as is evidenced by the following selected postings:
MESSAGE TO VELTA:   "I had the honor to share an airplane cockpit with you on seven FAA checkrides and on each one of them it truly was a pleasure to fly with and learn from you. That's right - one of the most important things I learned from you was how to remain calm, cool and collected in a cockpit under adversity. I sometimes would ask myself during a flight, "What would Velta do in this situation?  "
You taught more with fewer words than anyone I have ever known and that is an admirable trait.
You were a class act and set an unwavering example for all who were fortunate enough to come across your path in life. Simply put, your sphere of influence was quite large. And although I know that YOU would never say it - you were one of the greatest of the 'Greatest Generation'.
   First Lieutenant, we all are truly going to miss you!"  Matthew Tyson   Louisa, VA
"It was an honor and pleasure to know her and learn from her. Her life's accomplishments are what many dream of and few ever achieve."  Dr. Tom Roselle   Oakton, VA  
God bless her family and those whose lives she touched.  She is truly flying higher.
Respectfully posted by Nancy and Deanie Parrish Dec. 6, 2010


  1. The very best flight lesson I ever received was from Velta on my instrument check ride. It was an honor to have known her and shared a cockpit with her. Ron Ekstrom - Ft. Washington MD/Little Rock Arkansas

    1. She was the best! I learned a ton on my instrument check ride years ago. Aviation will miss her. I am so lucky to have her signature in my book.

      B. Fett
      Frontier Airlines

  2. Velta showed me how to control the aircraft by pushing against the slipstream with the doors and adjusting the trim to climb or descend on the way back from my PP checkride in '95. I'll never forget her, such an honor to share a cockpit!

  3. Ditto all the above...I flew back to Rose Valley from below the Brooke VOR on my Instrument check ride using only the doors and trim tabs ( the gust lock was installed in the control column)...She was the best

    Steve Roberts....C-ASEL&S, ME, IA

  4. Debi Katzen DreyfussApril 5, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    Velta Benn was my flight examiner for my PPL back in 1990. I was so lucky to have known an aviation legend! I cherish her signature in my first log book.

  5. Several decades ago, I had the pleasure of having Velta Benn fly my check ride. I will never forget her -- amazing woman and an extraordinary pilot. Even then (and this is perhaps 30 years ago), she was thin and even frail. I remember her being so small and elderly in appearance, and that left me wondering just how she would be in the air.

    What a surprise I had in store! With a word spoken, she managed the entire check ride. Every 30 seconds or so, instead of speaking, her little hand would snap out like a rocket and tap on the instruments to indicate an error. The speed and precision of her suggested corrections was astonishing.

    TAP TAP TAP -- 50 feet off your altitude now; TAP TAP TAP -- ball isn't centered, as if to remind me to get my feet active on those rudders; TAP TAP, pause, then TAP TAP TAP TAP -- airspeed 5 kts higher than best economy cruise. Then a pause.... Then, TAP TAP -- altitude is 50 feet low now....

    It went on and on like that with me struggling to keep up and on the numbers, sweating it out. All the while she just sat there, as calm as could be, casually looking out the window, and almost absentmindedly tapping away at every small error I was making.

    When we landed, I was exhausted. Despite having flown what I considered a pretty reasonable flight, she left me thinking that I had failed miserably, given the incessant tapping all the time.

    Instead of issuing me the bad news, she just hopped out and lightly sprang off the wing to the ground. Then she turned to me with a smile, and said -- "I've seen worse, particularly back during the war. You passed just fine."

    With that, she whipped out her pen, signed my logbook and skipped off toward the FBO while I went about tying down the plane, still stunned from the experience. Later I caught up with her and she told me how she had trained pilots during WWII as a WASP. I had had no idea what a famous person she was until that meeting and check ride.


  6. In June 2001 I climbed into a Cessna 172 for my private pilot checkride. Velta took right seat. She would have been 84. I was so nervous I was hoping I didn't lose my lunch and ruin everything. Up we went, in total silence. As we flew, she simply asked at every waypoint: "did you make your checkpoint?" "Yes" I would say and fly on. On the emergency engine out, I was very happy with my final approach, when I felt my rudders moving! "What?" I stuttered. Velta was stepping on them. She said "You are gonna land on the grass ..." So I corrected - too much, I thought - and sure enough, with the crosswind, we ended up center line. We landed - my engine did not "miraculously" recover. :) She chatted with me while I taxied to takeoff position, and suddenly I realized all my fear had disappeared - I was calm and having fun. We took off, did some maneuvers and headed back. One short landing, and on our roll to the taxiway she said "head to the terminal, you did fine; you are a pilot." I couldn't help it - I shouted "woo hoo!" and gunned it. Up came my nose wheel. Velta said "careful ... I haven't signed anything yet!" but she was grinning ear to ear. I like many others had no idea of Velta's vast history and contributions. She had simply told me that she "ferried" planes during WWII, during our oral exam. I feel enormous pride for her, and extreme happiness that a little of that history combined with mine on that wonderful day in Manassas, VA. Thank you, Velta - Jim Jones

  7. In 1989, I (successfully) had her for my private checkride and later my instrument a couple years later. Great lady she knew what she was doing. I was always amused she was kinda short so she could barely see above the dashboard but she handled that just fine like everything else. - Patrick Ruff

  8. Ms. Velta Benn conducted my private pilot checkride on July 3rd, 1996. I did not know at that time she was a WASP. She was clearly at home in the cockpit and for those three or four hours together provided some great advice I have never forgotten.

  9. I did some training with a British equivalent of Velta, Monique Agazarian. These people were an amazing breed, it was an honour to make their acquaintance.

  10. It was my pleasure to know Velta. I received my flight ratings pvt,commercial and multi engine at P.G. air park in Maryland where she was a flight examiner at the time I was a flight attendant for United Airlines. I will always remember her as being one of the best pilots I ever had the pleasure to know.
    I am living in Bangkok Thailand now and was just thinking of Velta after seeing a special on the WASPS. I know she was loved by many including myself. Steve Berlin

  11. In 1969 I was a Navy Lieutenant stationed at NAS Pax Riv Md. As a Navigator on C-130’s and a few hours in the right seat of the Hercules, I decided it was time to learn how to fly. A few weeks and forty hours later I was ready for a check-ride. I was told to fly a student cross country to Prince George Air Park and I would meet my FAA examiner there. Yes, it was Velta.
    The first lesson I learned was on the take-off roll. It seems there was a bit of a dip in the run-way and with the death grip I had on that Cessna 150 I would have probably buried the nose wheel. Velta grabbed the yoke, took the pressure off the nose wheel and we continued the take. We proceeded with the check ride using mostly basic instruments to navigate around the area. When it came time for unusual attitudes the Washington D. C haze was too thick and we terminated the check-ride.
    Velta said she would fly down to St. Mary’s County in a few days and complete the Check. She arrived a few days later and we began the rest. We were in the FBO and she told me to go ahead and pre-flight the 150. I did that and returned to the office. We talked about what we would do and went out to the airplane. We went thru the checklist and got ready to start the engine when she said “are you sure you’re ready”. I assumed that since she asked, there must be something wrong. Being used to Navy checkrides, I thought “this is a trick” like her seat belt not fastened or something loose in the back seat. I couldn’t find anything so I checked outside. While I was inside, Someone had attached a NOSEWHEEL TOW BAR. Why I didn’t see it I’ll never know. I thought, well this checkride is over before it gets started. But Velta was cool and used it as a teaching point. I’ll never know if Velta was the one who attached the Tow Bar, but it was a great lesson that I used for the next 40 years of flying.

    I hate to think how many times Velta used my screwup as a teaching point to others.

    RIP Velta....Andy Gabriel. Captain, USN Retired

  12. Velta Benn was my flight instructor at PG Airpark, Md., back in the late 60's and early 70's. She instructed me for my commercial, instrument, multi-engine and flight instruction ratings. I remember her as a tough, but fair instructor and till this day, after flying for 30, 000 plus hours, I still remember her instructions to me as I was learning. She was a great lady and I will never forget her.