Cornelia Fort was born to a wealthy and prominent family in Nashville on February 5, 1919. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1939. Fort showed an interest in flying at an early age and earned her pilot's license in Hawaii, became an instructor, and eventually a member of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS).
Fort was one of the first witnesses to the attack on Pearl Harbor. On the morning of December 7th, she was instructing a student pilot in the sky over Pearl Harbor when she saw a military aircraft approach her at high speed. She immediately pulled up and noticed the rising sun on the side of the plane. Moments later she witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. She landed the plane and she and her student ran for cover.
On March 21, 1943, the WAFS joined in maneuvers with a group of male pilots in the sky over Merkel, Texas. Both groups were given explicit instructions to fly in formation and maintain a distance of five hundred feet between planes. But one pilot decided to play games with his female counterparts. Breaking formation, he accelerated and headed toward the group. He rolled his plane around Fort's BT-13 and misjudging the distance, the wing of his plane sliced through the cockpit, fatally injuring her. Before the plane crashed into the ground, she managed to turn off the ignition to avoid being consumed by flames.
Cornelia Fort was the first female pilot to die while serving on Active Duty.