Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Esther Emma Rose Noffke, 44-W-2 June 28, 2013

"I thought it (WASP) was a tremendous program.  As I look back, I'm amazed at the efficiency with which it was carried out.  It was well done.  I didn't know enough about aviation back then to criticize, but now I think to myself how great that was!
/s/ Esther Noffke, 44-W-2 

Esther Emma Rose Noffke was a pioneering lady pilot
with a lifetime love of aviation-- from her earliest memories of watching airplanes overhead, to dreaming of flying, to flying for her country as a WASP,
and to helping grow a small flying field into a successful corporate airport.   

WASP Esther Noffke, Class 44-W-2

Esther was born March 16, 1922 in Bonfield, IL. to Edward and Henerrita Noffke.   While growing up on her family's farm in the central Illinois town of Union Hill,  young Esther  would watch the airplanes flying overhead and dream about flying.  

During  her high school years, Esther skipped lunch, pocketing the money until she had saved enough to pay for flying lessons at Koerner's Airport near Kankakee, Illinois.  After graduating from Reddick High School, she continued building up her flying hours.   Eventually, she learned of a new pilot training program,  to teach qualified women pilots to fly military aircraft, and applied.

After being accepted into the program, Esther paid her way to travel to West Texas and arrived in Sweetwater, Texas  as one of the 112 members of class 44-2.    After completing seven months of Army Air Force flight training, Esther and forty-eight of her classmates had earned their silver WASP wings.  On March 13, 1944, they graduated and became WASP. 

The Class 44-2 graduates were the first WASP to wear the brand new Santiago blue uniforms.   The Big Springs Bombardier School Band passed in review as the graduates, General Hap Arnold, (the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces), WASP Director Jacqueline Cochran,  and Nancy Love  (the Executive for WASP ATC/FD)  looked on.

After graduation, Esther received her Army orders to report to the Commanding Officer at Dodge City Army Air Base,  Kansas, where she completed the B-26 transition flight training program.   As she later recalled, "I couldn't believe I got that assignment!  They had already made the selection of the twenty pilots who would go to Dodge City and I couldn't qualify because I was half an inch too short.  We had the option of putting down three choices, and I put down B-26 school for all three, so I finally got to go.  I made it through and graduated, but, you know, it was tough.  It was hard."

Her next assignment was to Gowen Army Air Base in Boise, Idaho.   At Gowen, B-26’s flew alongside B-17’s, challenging the integrity of the formations and  training the B-17 pilots for combat.  From Gowen,  Esther was assigned to Dyersburg Army Air Field in Tennessee, where she flew tracking missions and as co-pilot in the B-17. 

After the WASP were disbanded in December of 1944, Esther paid her way home and, when she coudn't find a job as a pilot, went to work in the shop at Pal Waukee Airport.  Eventually, she was hired as a flight instructor, where she taught all the ground school classes and did the Link training. Eventually, George Priestess (her boss)  bought the air field, and Esther was hired as his Administrative Assistant.  She became an important part of the team as they developed the Palwaukee Airport (now called Chicago Executive Airport).

In 1977 Esther was elected to the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame.  

She was a member of the Ninety-Nines (an international organization of women pilots) and was inducted into the International Forest of Friendship in 1987.    From 1970 -72 she served on the Woman's Advisory Committee On Aviation under President Lyndon Johnson. 

In the early 1990's Esther agreed to be interviewed by her WASP classmate for a book she was writing about their class.  Esther only had one request: "I just don't want us to sound frivolous. We weren't frivolous; we were really serious." 

On March 10, 2010, the  WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (the highest civilian award Congress can bestow).  Esther attended the Gold Medal Ceremony, which was held  in the Capitol of the United States.  She was accompanied by George Priester’s son, Charlie Priester, Chairman of Priester Aviation, together with other friends and family.  

On Friday, June 28, 2013, at the Glenbrook Hostpital in Glenview, Illinois, Esther passed away after suffering a stroke.

On the day of her funeral,  Chicago Executive Airport, a busy airport near Chicago O'Hare Airport, shut down for an  hour in her honor so the funeral procession could pass down the taxiway, runway and around the control tower.  Two fire trucks extended their ladders and draped an American flag between them. As the procession drove under the flag,  a single bagpiper played Amazing Grace.  An American Flag covered  Esther’s coffin and,  as taps were played, the Air Force Honor Guard gently folded the flag.  

Esther is survived by her sister,  Hilda Schultz;  brother,  Edward (Maggie) Noffke,  and many nieces, nephews and friends. 

Esther was preceded in death by her parents, Edward and Henerrita Noffke,  and her sisters,  Alma Berberovich and Mildred Reiniche.

Memorials to remember this aviation pioneer may be made to the Esther Noffke Aviation Scholarship Fund at Southern Illinois University.    

    Southern Illinois University   Attn:, Director of Advancement    1365 Douglas Drive,  Mail Code 6604    Carbondale, IL 62901

v/r written and posted by Nancy Parrish
photos added by Wings Across America

Personal note:

I never had the honor of meeting this extraordinary aviation pioneer.  Like so many of the WASP, after the war was over,  she went home, lived her life and made a difference.  

In her honor, I posted a 'compiliation photo' -- made from a black and white photo of the Pal-Waukee Airport--and of Esther, from her trip to the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington, DC.  It was a special day in the life of this special lady pilot.

God bless all of those whose lives she touched.


Byrd Granger’s “On Final Approach”
Chicago Tribune News -- July 4, 2013
Memorial Lear Jet FlyBy



  1. I still recall vividly that moment at Elmhurst Airport, when Esther had me stop the J3 at mid-field while she quickly exited the plane, telling me, "Take her around!" My solo!

    Knowing her then (c. 1952), I wondered why the Air Force had no women pilots, but it took decades before the government acknowledged what we already knew.

    Thank you, Esther.

  2. I thank her for all she did and her service in the military. Esther Nofkee was my Great Aunt and she still touches my life today even though she is no longer with us. I just wish I could've met her in person, unfortunately I never had that opportunity.