Margaret Ringenberg lived
and dreamed flying, so it seems somewhat appropriate that the
87-year-old died in
just as EAA AirVenture 2008 began.
A spokeswoman with the
Winnebago County Coroner said Ringenberg, of
, 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
, 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,”
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
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
She completed the Round the
World air race in 1994 and raced from
in 2001. In June 2002, she and her granddaughter flew to
where she addressed the astronauts and others at the
. But she didn’t just meet the astronauts; she was able to fly their
best flight simulators. “And I made two landings without crashing,”
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
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.
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
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
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
’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.”