Tuesday, June 12, 2012

WASP Betty Martin Riddle, 44-W-9 June 8, 2012

WASP Betty Martin Riddle was born on December 23, 1923, in Wetumka, Oklahoma, halfway between Oklahoma City and the Arkansas border.  Her love of flying began early, as she watched her father build planes from blueprints.  

Betty began flying during her high school years, taking lessons before and after school.  After high school graduation, she enrolled in junior college and signed up for the Civilian Pilot Training Program, worked at the airport on weekends and soloed a plane before she could drive a car. 

In late 1943, she learned of the WASP training program and, when she was old enough, sent in her application.  With her commercial pilot's license in hand, she was accepted into the training program, and joined 97 other young women pilots who paid their way to Sweetwater as members of class 44-9.  

After seven months of training, Betty and 54 of her classmates graduated on November 8, 1944. Assigned to Altus Army Air Base in Altus, Oklahoma, Betty flew as an engineering test pilot in the twin engine UC-78.  Just over a month after her graduation,  December 20, 1944, the WASP were disbanded.  

Betty went to work for Douglas Aircraft as an inspector for the A-26, until the war ended. Answering a telegram from a friend, Betty signed on as a pilot, flying all over south Texas,  ferrying PT-17's and BT-13's to Alice, Texas, where they were converted for crop dusting, student instruction and charter flights.  It was at this time that Betty met and married a fellow pilot.  

When the marriage ended, Betty took her young daughter and went home, taking a job instructing students under the GI Bill at a junior college. While instructing, Betty fell in love with  fellow instructor, Howard Riddle,  and eventually, they were married.  They moved to Liberal, Kansas.  In 1949, they moved their growing family to Rockford, Illinois where Howard became chief pilot at Sundstrand Corporation.  For the next 30 years, while raising their 3 children, Betty continued to renew her ratings and kept flying.

Betty's artwork on display in her living room, 2001.
During the 60's she worked as a secretary/receptionist, a flight instructor and became part owner of a Cessna dealership.   After retiring, her love of learning kept Betty busy-- sewing, knitting, golfing, water skiing, painting, cake decorating, playing bridge and creating ceramics. 

When her husband died in 1985, she became more active in aviation organizations, including the National WASP Organization, where she served as District Director and worked in WASP Stores.  She also became active in the Experimental Aircraft Association, Confederate (Commemorative) Airforce, Biplane Association, Antique Aircraft Association and the 99's. 

On March 10, 2010, Betty and her family were  present at the US Capitol when the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  It is the highest civilian award Congress can bestow. It was a memorable occasion for many reasons, but, according to Betty, traveling with her family by motorhome to the ceremony was something she would always cherish. 

In July of 2001, Betty graciously invited Wings Across America into her home, and shared her inspirational story.  When asked why she joined the WASP, Betty didn't hesitate to answer:  
"I wanted to do what I could.  It was the one thing I knew how to do. My two brothers were younger. They couldn't join. I was the oldest. I wanted to do what I could to help win the war."                            
Betty was one of the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft.   She was a true patriot.

Betty Riddle died Friday, June 8,  in Claremore, Oklahoma.   She is survived by her daughter Susan Hilton, sons Steven and Dan Riddle, their spouses, six grandchildren, two  great grandchildren and brother Jack Martin.

Official obit -- Tulsa World
Services are pending  Musgrove-Merriott-Smith Betty Riddle -- TULSA WORLD, March 21, 2010