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Bernice Haydu: American Aviator, WASP and Advocate for Women Pilots

Bernice "Bee" S. Falk Haydu (December 15, 1920 – January 30, 2021) was an American aviator and served as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) in World War II.

Haydu remained active in aviation and remained an advocate for women pilots. She excelled as an aviator and was devoted to her friends and family.  Bee was a role model and inspiration to so many during her life as a lifelong aviatrix. One of her greatest joys was meeting and making new friends while sharing her story.  She loved her family, country, aviation and was always looking forward to her next adventure. 

“Bee, who earned her nickname because she flew like a bumblebee, was an inspiration to all in the aviation community. She touched our lives and we are grateful for all the memories,” the National WASP WWII Museum said on Facebook.

Haydu had celebrated her 100th birthday in December. She received cards and good wishes from pilots all around the United States. In July, members of the International Organization of Women Pilots (The Ninety-Nines) arranged a celebratory flyover of her residence in Palm City, Florida. At that point Haydu was at an assisted living facility, and the flyover was an opportunity to pay homage to an aviation legend during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Born December 15, 1920, in Montclair, New Jersey, Haydu volunteered to join the WASP program in 1944. She trained for seven months at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she logged 210 hours in aircraft including the Boeing PT–17 Stearman, Vultee BT–13 Valiant, North American AT–6 Texan, and the Cessna AT–17 Bobcat. She graduated in September 1944 from WASP Class 44-W-7, and she served at Pecos Army Airfield as an engineering test pilot and a utility pilot, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

After the WASP program was canceled in December 1944, Haydu remained actively involved in aviation. She ferried aircraft, was a flight instructor, flew a comedy airshow act, and owned a Cessna dealership. She and husband Joe Haydu, also a pilot, owned several airplanes, including a Stearman and a Link trainer.

“When they disbanded us it was, ‘Goodbye, girls. Thank you,’” she told AOPA in 2011. “We had to pay our own way home. Afterwards I couldn’t get a job. So I got my CFI certificate and flew on my own. I later got a Cessna dealership and started a flight school.”

Haydu served as the president of the WASP organization from 1975 to 1978, during which she was instrumental in getting the WASP recognized as veterans of World War II. In 2010, Congress awarded the organization the Congressional Gold Medal.

Haydu’s 2003 memoir, Letters Home 1944-45, detailed her military service as well as her ongoing efforts to get recognition for the WASP. In 2013, she was inducted into Women in Aviation International’s Pioneer Hall of Fame.

Haydu was a frequent presence at Sun ‘n Fun and EAA AirVenture, among other venues, and a much sought-after public speaker on the WASP and World War II.