Saturday, August 27, 2011


Hazel Ying Lee

Hazel Ying Lee was born in Portland, Ore., in 1912. The daughter of Chinese parents, Ms. Lee enrolled in a flying program sponsored by the Chinese Benevolent Society when she was 20. In 1932 she traveled to China with the intention of joining the Chinese Air Force to fight against the Japanese. She was not allowed to join the Chinese Air Force but contributed to the war effort in various ways including working with a propaganda group and opening a school in Canton.

In 1938 she returned to the United States and worked for a trading company in New York on behalf of the Chinese government. Because of her previous flight training, Ms. Lee applied to the Women's Flying Training Detachment and was accepted into the fourth class (43-W-4). During training, Ms. Lee was forced to make an emergency landing in a farmer's field after her aircraft developed engine problems. The farmer mistook her for a Japanese pilot and held her at "pitchfork point," believing he was being invaded. His son called Avenger Field and let them know one of the WASP trainees had made a forced landing at their farm, and soon Ms. Lee was back at the base with an experience that would become a WASP history classic.

She completed training on Aug. 7 and was assigned to the Air Transport Command's 3rd Ferrying Squadron at Romulus Army Air Base, Mich. She primarily flew trainer and liaison type aircraft until April 1944 when she was sent to instrument school as part an upgrade program designed to prepare her for flying advanced aircraft. After completing instrument pilot school, she attended Officer Candidate School in June because of the belief (at the time) that the WASPs would soon be militarized and commissioned as Lieutenants in the Army. She completed her training by attending Pursuit School in September 1944. Pursuit School qualified her to fly all the Army's single-engine fighter aircraft, including P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51 and P-63. She graduated on Oct. 2, 1944 (with six other WASPs and 27 men) and returned to the 3rd Ferrying Group to resume deliveries of aircraft.

In early November, Ms. Lee went to the Bell Aircraft factory at Niagara Falls, N.Y., to pick up a new P-63 and fly it to Great Falls, Mont., for eventual delivery to Russia via the ALSIB route. Various weather problems delayed her on the way to Montana and it took until Nov. 23 for her to arrive. Many other pilots (both men and WASPs) encountered the same weather delays and several arrived at about the same time. One male pilot (also flying a P-63) had a malfunctioning radio and was unable to contact the control tower for landing instructions (by radio) so landing control lights were used. Ms. Lee was cleared to land by the control tower radio operators at the same time the other pilot was cleared to land using the light system. As both planes were attempting to land on the same runway at the same time, the control tower radioed for the pilot(s) to pull-up and go around without landing to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, Ms. Lee's aircraft was slightly in front of and below the other aircraft (with the malfunctioning radio) and when she pulled up (and the other aircraft did not), the two planes collided and crashed onto the runway. Although she survived the crash, Ms. Lee sustained severe burns and trauma in the resulting fire. She was pulled from her burning aircraft by Lt. Col. Nimmo C. Thysson and rushed to the local hospital; however, her injuries were too severe and she died on Nov. 25.

Additional Reading
Hazel Ah Ying Lee by Kay Gott (WASP of Class 43-W-2) Photo courtesy the USAF Museum.

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