(1919-1943) Enshrined November 13, 2010
Cornelia Clark Fort was born February 5, 1919, in Nashville and grew up on 365 acres of land along the Cumberland River in Davidson County. She attended Ross Elementary School and in 1932 enrolled at Ward-Belmont, an all-girls school. Cornelia briefly attended Ogontz Junior College and was later accepted at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. After graduation in 1939, she joined the Junior League of Nashville. Cornelia took her first flying lessons in the spring of 1940 and on March 10, 1941 became Nashville’s first female flight instructor. When the Civilian Pilot Training Program was established, she was hired as a flight instructor at Fort Collins, Colorado. In the fall of 1941 she moved to Hawaii and instructed at John Rodgers Airport in Honolulu. Cornelia was hired to teach defense workers, soldiers and sailors to fly. She was aloft with a student pilot on December 7, 1941, and became one of the first witnesses to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. When she returned to the mainland, Cornelia appeared at several war bond rallies, but she longed to be able to fly for her country. Finally, in September 1942, the Army opened the door to female pilots. Cornelia was among an elite group invited to take part, and she became the second woman to be accepted into the newly formed Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service, or WAFS, under the Ferrying Division of the Army’s Air Transport Command. Trained in Wilmington, Delaware, they would ferry new airplanes from factories to military bases. The WAFS compiled an exemplary record of service and safety, and early in 1943, they were split up to form the cores of new units of female pilots at bases across the country. Cornelia was sent to California’s Long Beach Army Air Field and assigned to ferry BT-13s to Love Field in Dallas, Texas. Cornelia Fort was killed in a mid-air collision on March 21, 1943, while on a ferrying mission. She was the first female American military pilot to die on active duty. Cornelia Fort Airpark, an airport built in 1945 near her family farm in Nashville, was named in her honor.
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