By Master Sgt. Kevin Williams
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Walking through the Peterson Air and Space Museum, she couldn’t help but reflect on her own aviation past. Her journey began in the small town of Wymore in eastern Nebraska in 1921. From there, she went through the Great Depression where her father, a dentist, would accept chickens, eggs and cream as payment for his services.
Betty Shafer moved to Los Angeles after high school to attend the University of Southern California. At the time, tuition was $125 per semester. Coming from a town with a population of 2,500, she was a little overwhelmed in a major city and a university with 12,000 students.
Feeling homesick after her first year, she moved back to Nebraska where she attended the University of Nebraska. Resident tuition was $35. In 1941, her senior year, she moved back to USC. The attack on Pearl Harbor not only changed the nation, it changed her plans. She heard about a new program where women ferried military planes stateside while men flew overseas — the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.
Shafer headed to Phoenix where she transferred to the Army Engineers Finance Office and began flying lessons. After obtaining her pilot’s license she applied to WASP. She was notified in 1943 to report to the airbase in Sweetwater, Texas.
Even though they were classified as civil service, the women were issued uniforms, lived in barracks and were subject to inspections. Before she could ferry planes, the war was winding down and male pilots were coming home. The WASP program ended.
Even though she never flew a WASP mission, flying was still in her blood. Looking at the displays in the museum with her son, Mike Shafer, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, she talked about her own aviation past.
“When I left the WASP program, I became a stewardess for United Airlines,” said Shafer. “I went to training in Chicago and then I was based in Denver.”
She loved her job since it afforded her the opportunity to fly and travel, even if she wasn’t at the controls. However, she was late to work one time and it saved her life.
“The only time I ever overslept and missed a flight, the plane crashed and all on board were killed,” she said. “At the time, United only had a fleet of DC-3s. They carried 21 passengers and were not equipped to fly above 10,000 feet (the planes were not pressurized).”
Shafer married in 1946 and her husband, Jac, got his pilot’s license. They bought a small four-seat plane and flew it all over the country.
Her son, Mike, reflected on those trips.
“I remember being in the back seat on many trips. They flew everywhere. In fact, I was conceived when they were snowed-in in Detroit,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t want the details of that trip.”
Throughout her life, she traveled, had children and grandchildren, lost siblings and her husband and became a huge Denver Broncos fan. At 93, she lives in Colorado Springs seasonally and still has a zest for life.
“I hope to be around a few more years to enjoy my family in Colorado and my friends,” Shafer said.