On August 25, 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the First Supplemental National Defense Appropriation Act which provided funding to the Civil Aeronautics Administration to build, operate and maintain air traffic control towers. Per this law, the Army and Navy had to identify 39 airports that were an integral part of our national defense so that the CAA could take over these airports from the local authorities.
When the U.S. entered the war, additional airports were designated essential and the CAA assumed command of their air traffic control operations. In January 1942, the CAA began recruiting women (along with older men ineligible to serve in the military) as replacements for male controllers who had been drafted. Training included four weeks in the classroom followed by hands-on in the tower.
In the beginning, the requirements for both men and women applicants stated applicants be between the ages of 20 and 45, have a private pilot's license and 18 months of control experience or high school or college education. Their salary began at $1,800 annually and was increased to $2,000 upon successful completion of six-month training.
During the war, the number of towers and personnel increased. By the end of the fiscal year 1944, there were 115 towers and plans to train at least 1,200 air traffic controllers by mid-1943.
As war raged on, women played a more significant role in air traffic control, making up approximately 40% of the personnel by late 1942. However, as was the case in many other jobs during the war, when it ended and men returned to the states, they resumed their jobs with the CAA, sending many of the women back home. A number of women did remain on the job, even making careers of it.
--Read more in the FAA's The First Women Controllers
Air traffic control is a tough job with zero margin for error and women proved they were as good, if not better, than the men they replaced. Like the WASP, the women air traffic controllers of WWII paved the way for future generations of women to serve their country in yet another very demanding and significant role.
Watch this WWII video below highlight women training as air traffic controllers!