Do you ever wonder how your life will turn out? Are there many things you love to do, but they seem impossible to weave together in one lifetime? Have you ever pondered the adventures that may lie before you as you serve God?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then this woman’s story will be an eye-opening discovery.  Join me as we consider the life of Betty Greene—a WWII WASP, the first woman to fly across the Andes Mountains, and the co-founder of Missionary Aviation Fellowship!

Setting the scene:

Within a decade of the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, airplanes had become a significant part of the military. During World War I, both the Central Powers and the Allies used this brand new machine in their struggle to win the war. The changing usage of planes during combat from mere reconnaissance to actual flying weapons accelerated the requirement for new technology. This also required that military pilots rapidly accelerate their efforts to gain new skills and experience. This was, however, only the beginning of aviation’s place in history.

After the war, an incredible milestone was reached in 1927: the Atlantic Ocean was successfully crossed by plane. A short time later, eight year-old Betty Greene had the opportunity to see Charles Lindbergh, the brave pilot who accomplished this astonishing feat, as he flew his famous plane near her home in Seattle, Washington. A spark of determination burned in her to one day take to the skies as a pilot herself. Anything seemed possible in those heady days in America, especially in the field of aviation.

However, only two years later, the world entered the Great Depression. This had a dramatic effect upon families and fortunes.  If it hadn’t been for a wealthy uncle giving Betty one hundred dollars for her sixteenth birthday, she might never have been able to take flying lessons. Though Betty discovered that she really loved to fly, it was certainly not a “career path” for women in the 1930s.  She dutifully studied to be a nurse because her parents saw it as one of the few jobs possible for educated women, though it was not at all personally interesting to her. When it became painfully obvious that she was not suited for this particular occupation, her parents gave permission for her to pursue other avenues.

When a family friend suggested that Betty’s two loves—flying and serving the Lord—might become an opportunity to serve as a pilot on the mission field, her path of study and preparation suddenly became clear.  Her steadfast vision and sense of God’s call, as well as her courage in the face of difficulties, gave her the strength to walk this highly unusual path for the rest of her life.

Betty completed her degree in sociology at the University of Washington, gaining her civilian pilot’s license along the way. This put her in the right place at the right time to apply for a new program available for women pilots who wished to serve the military (though they were not actually in the military).  This WWII program, known by the acronym “WASP” (Women Air Force Service Pilots), performed necessary aviation tasks in America for the military.  For Betty, this included working with dangerous experimental high-altitude flying! In mid-1944, before the war was finished, the WASP organization was disbanded. This was not as traumatic for Betty as for many of the other women pilots, because she already had the next step in mind. With three other pilots—more typical pilots because they were men—she launched an aviation ministry to serve the needs of missionaries on the field:  Christian Airmen’s Missionary Fellowship (CAMF), later renamed Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF).

Betty was the first full-time staff member, working diligently to spread the news of the fledgling organization and to gather both funds and pilots, and she became the first MAF pilot to actually serve on the field. Her first posting was flying missionaries to various places in Mexico for Wycliffe Bible Translators. And as Wycliffe was allowed to enter Peru to begin translation work, Betty became the first MAF pilot to go into Peru, a daunting task since it required flying across the mountainous region of the Andes. A Marine Corps general even told her that she would never be able to handle her plane in this strenuous environment. She literally “flew in the face of difficulties.” His remark proved shortsighted when Betty Greene became the first woman pilot to fly over the Andes!  Betty also served as a pilot for MAF in Nigeria, in the Sudan, and in Papua New Guinea.

The ministry of MAF made a huge difference to missionaries throughout the world … and Betty Greene, who had dreamed of flying since she was a little girl, through courage, determination and trust in God, helped to make it all possible.

Suggested Reading: Betty Greene, Christian Heroes Then and Now series, by Janet & Geoff Benge, YWAM Publishing.

Suggested Internet Sites:

Learn about the life of Betty Greene on this Missionary Aviation Fellowship website.

Watch a 27-minute video of MAF’s early days, including the planes, the pilots, and the living situations.