Friday, July 12, 2013

Barbara Jane 'BJ' Erickson London, WAFS July 7, 2013

"I was born at the right place at the right time, and for my part,
it was a fantastic experience.  I think I was lucky.
I probably was in the best spot I could possibly have been.
The Good Lord took care of me all the time I was there
and I got through it all right and my life has gone on from there.  

I think it was a tremendous opoprutunity
that I was given and I'm thankful for it."  *
/s/ Barbara London, WAFS

Barbara Jane 'BJ' Erickson London, WAFS  
July 1, 1920   -  July 7, 2013

London operated an aircraft sales business at Long Beach Airport
Posted:   07/10/2013 03:41:56 PM PDT
Updated:   07/10/2013 03:42:03 PM PDT

Barbara Erickson London, a pioneering female pilot who helped put Long Beach on the aviation map, died July 7 in Los Gatos. She was 93.

Erickson, who lived most of her life in Long Beach and operated an aircraft sales business at Long Beach Airport, had moved to Los Gatos to be close to her sister.

"She has been surrounded by family and friends and the one thing she wanted was to be able to stay in her own home, be in her own bed, and be with the people she loved," her daughter, Kristy Ardizzone, said. "All that happened just the way she wanted and she passed with dignity and grace surrounded by lots of love."

In 1940, London (then Erickson) became the first woman to be recruited into the Civil Air Patrol program at Long Beach's Daugherty Field. During World War II, she was appointed as Squadron Commander for the 6th Ferry Command.

The young pilot was qualified to fly all pursuit planes, the medium-size bombers A-20, A-26 and B-25, the cargo craft DC-3 and C-54 and the mighty B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

Among her wartime feats in the ferrying service was flying four 2,000-mile trips in five days. She was the only woman during the war to be awarded the Air Medal for her service.
In 1948, she was commissioned as a major in the Air Force Reserve.

The  Woman's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) was disbanded at the end of 1944 after complaints from male pilots that women were taking flights and jobs. In 1971, Congress passed legislation to give veteran status to WASP fliers, and in 2010, President Obama awarded Congressional Gold Medals to surviving WASPs, including London.

"She was so thrilled that all the gals finally got their acknowledgment when they received the Congressional Medal," Ardizzone said. "It was all about them."

Barbara met her husband, Jack London Jr., during the war when they were both pilots. After their marriage, they operated United States Aviation, a flight school, until the Korean War. He preceded her in death by 40 years and one day.

London would go on to found and operate Barney Frazier Aircraft, Inc., in Long Beach with her younger daughter, Ardizzone. Her older daughter, Terry London Rinehart, is a commercial pilot.
London also was active in the Powder Puff Derby, an airplane race series for female pilots. She served as secretary of the organization and raced herself for a number of years.

In 2006, a street near the airport was named Barbara London Drive, and she served as both an official and unofficial community advocate for the Long Beach Airport for years. She figures prominently in the airport's history exhibits along with other great Long Beach-based female pilots, including Gladys O'Donnell and Kay Daugherty.

There will not be a formal memorial or service, following her wishes, Ardizzone said.
"She just wanted people to know how much she loved being a part of the Long Beach community and especially the LB airport," Ardizzone said. "She was such an amazing mentor and supporter and touched so many people's lives."

Staff writers Harry Saltzgaver and Tim Grobaty contributed to this report.

v/r article respectfully reposted by Wings Across America as written

*additional quote from "Forgotten Wings: An Oral History of Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASPs" Copyright 1992:  Gail Gutierrez and  Oral History Program California State University, Fullerton
Photo added by Wings Across America



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  2. The Signal Tribune Newspaper - by Sean Belk

    Barbara Erickson London, a heroic aviator who helped pave the way for women pilots and played a pivotal role in Long Beach aviation history, passed away on Sunday, July 7 in Los Gatos, Calif., surrounded by family and friends. She was 93.

    Born on July 1, 1920 in Seattle, Washington, London enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program in her late teens as a sophomore at the University of Washington. This set in motion a path to become a highly regarded pioneering woman aviator.

    In a class of only four women receiving pilot training at the time, she went on to quickly become a flying instructor and flew both land and sea planes. London then arrived in Long Beach after joining the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which was responsible for delivering military aircraft to different parts of the country during World War II. She was the 14th woman to qualify.

    At age 23, she became the commanding officer of 80 women assigned to the Long Beach 6th Ferrying Group and later the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), which disbanded one year later. But in 1943, she flew 8,000 miles in 10 days, including four 2,000-mile trips, transporting P-47s, P-51s and C-47s in less than a week.

    It was for these intrepid flights that Erickson London was awarded the Air Medal by General “Hap” Arnold. She was the only WASP to receive such a medal during the war.

    Her aviation accomplishments, however, didn’t stop there.

    After World War II, London married Jack London Jr., also a pilot whom she met in the Ferry Command. Together with other pioneering aviators, she ran a flight school, charter service and aircraft-parts sales business. She later continued her aviation business at the Long Beach Airport.

    London also helped to found the All Woman Transcontinental Air Race, also known as the “Powder Puff Derby,” and established the Long Beach Chapter of the Ninety Nines, a now international organization of women pilots. The organization’s first president was famed woman aviator Amelia Earhart.

    The local chapter helped Long Beach, Torrance and Orange County to host the transcontinental air race many times through its 30-year history. Iris Critchell, who served with London in the WAFS for two years, sent the Signal Tribune an emailed statement about her passing.

    “Barbara was a rare and wonderful friend for me, and we shared in many different phases of our lives,” she said. “Her grace and poise, as well as strength and quiet leadership, was a privilege to work with and know as a close friend since 1943. I hope that some of her major contributions to aviation, women pilots and the community can be brought to light to inspire others in to the future.”

    London and Critchell are both memorialized on the wall of the top floor of the historic terminal building at the Long Beach Airport. The airport named a street after London in 2005, and in 2010 she received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C.

    Long Beach Airport staff issued the following statement on London’s passing. “Barbara London served our nation, ferrying airplanes to our troops in the battlefields of WWII,” the statement read. “She has been recognized as an American hero and is known for her groundbreaking role as a woman aviator in our armed forces. Long Beach Airport chose to name a street after her legacy because we are so proud that she is part of the airport’s history. More importantly, we are proud that she is part of the LGB family. We extend our prayers to her loved ones and to all those who admire her bravery and heroism.”

  3. Barbara was a dear friend. I'll miss our time spent talking about the war, the WAFS, birds, movies, history and all things having to do with living a purposeful life. It was an honor and inspiration to know, love, and be there with her during her last days. She was a humble woman who loved serving her country ... and more importantly .... loved serving aviation. She has given back to the industry three-fold over the last 70 years.

    Blue Skies, BJ. You'll always be by my side.

  4. I love you Grandma you are missed so much

    Thank you Tamara

  5. Still thinking of you, Barbara. You were young at heart all your life. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend to my mother.

  6. I met Barbara and had the honor of doing a live filmed tv interview and actually flying her and her daughter and grand daughter around in a Twin Beech back in 2008. She was a delight to talk to and we enjoyed a 1 hour flight together to top off the day. She is an american aviation treasure.

  7. I truly regret not knowing about this amazing woman until now. I am a WAC veteran, and to me this amazing woman is a true hero! In her life, what she accomplished? Is amazing, truly an inspiration to all women everywhere.
    I am sure she is still flying high above Heaven's gate! Only now that she has earned her wings? She can fly without the aid of an aircraft!!