March 21st, 1943: Cornelia Fort became the first female pilot in American history to die on active duty.
While ferrying a new Vultee Valiant basic trainer, from the factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas, her left wing was struck from behind by another airplane, flown by Frank E. Stamme, Jr. The BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed.
Cornelia Fort was lead of a flight of five Valiants being ferried from the factory by low time military pilots. Frank Stamme had approximately 250 flight hours. Apparently trying to impress Miss Fort, Stamme attempted to perform a barrel roll around her airplane, but inadvertently struck her wing.
At the time of the accident, Cornelia Fort was one of the most accomplished pilots of the WAFS. The footstone of her grave is inscribed, "Killed in the Service of Her Country."
An interesting side note; While working as a civilian pilot instructor at Pearl Harbor, Cornelia Fort also became one of the first witnesses to the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.
On December 7, 1941, Fort was in the air near Pearl Harbor with a student pilot in an Interstate Cadet monoplane. Fort saw a military airplane flying directly toward her and swiftly grabbed the controls from her student to pull up over the oncoming craft. It was then she saw the rising sun insignia on the wings. Within moments, she saw billows of black smoke coming from Pearl Harbor and bombers flying in. She quickly landed the plane at John Rodgers civilian airport near the mouth of Pearl Harbor. The pursuing Zero strafed her plane and the runway as she and her student ran for cover.
Blue skies, Cornelia, and thank you for your service.