PEACHTREE CITY, USA – In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Aventure would like to draw attention to Hazel Ying Lee, the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military when she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1944. One of America’s first female pilots, she flew the P-63 Kingcobra and the P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft.
Lee was born in Portland, Oregon to first-generation Chinese Americans. She was determined to learn to fly after taking her first ride at an air show. She joined the Chinese Flying Club of Portland in October 1932.
After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1933, Lee and several other Chinese Americans journeyed there to aid the Chinese Air Force. As a woman, Lee was forced to take a desk job. Frustrated, she instead spent the next few years flying for a private airline.
She returned to America in 1938. After entering World War II, the U.S. realized there were not enough male pilots to sustain the war effort at home, so the WASP program was created. After joining, Lee became the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military. She was assigned to fly newly manufactured aircraft across the country, to be delivered to the European and Pacific War fronts.
Lee died during an aircraft collision on November 23, 1944 in North Dakota, while flying a P-63 from the Bell Aircraft factory at Niagara Falls, New York, destined for Soviet allies fighting the Nazis.
Though operating under military command, WASPs were classified as civilians and received no military benefits. They were given veteran status in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.