Hazel Raines was the first woman in Georgia to earn a pilot’s license.
Born in 1916 in Waynesboro, Georgia, Hazel spent most of her childhood years in Macon. She graduated from Macon’s Wesleyan Conservatory in 1936. Upon graduation, without fanfare she chose to pursue flight training and quickly earned a private pilot’s license. Years later she would earn her commercial license and become a pilot for Eastern Airlines. Though her small body size prevented her from reaching the controls of larger aircraft, she learned to fly every plane she could.
Hazel spent her early years as a pilot barnstorming and stunt flying with the Georgia Air Races and Show. When an opportunity arose, she joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program and trained pilots for service in the Army and Navy Air Corps. At this time, the Air Force didn’t yet exist as a separate branch of the Armed Services.
Then came Pearl Harbor.
When the U. S. entered into WWII, Hazel was one of 25 American women pilots recruited to serve as a ferry pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary to the Royal Air Force in Britain. A dangerous occupation, ferry Pilots flew without guns or ammunition in skies still dominated by the German Luftwaffe. They piloted damaged planes to factories for repair and brand new Spitfires from factories to RAF airbases. Despite many close calls, asthma and a heart condition, Hazel never bailed out of a plane. On one occasion the engine failed on a Spitfire she was ferrying. Hazel survived, crashing on a thatched roof in an English village. Write to family members during her recovery from the crash, Hazel described the thrill of the villagers on seeing a tiny American girl emerge from the wreckage. In those accounts she never mentions her two-month hospitalization.
In 1943 Hazel was called back to service in the United States to work with the newly formed Women’s Air Service Pilots—otherwise known as WASPS—in Texas. There, she served as a test pilot for damaged and recently repaired aircraft. As a WASP she also “pulled flying targets,” piloting aircraft for the training of young gunners using live ammunition in mock dogfights.
After the war, Hazel returned to training pilots—this time for the Brazilian Air Ministry. With the outbreak of the Korean War, she was once again called to active duty. She became a recruiter for the Women’s Army Corps and the Women’s Air Force before being sent on highly secretive missions to NATO bases across Western Europe.
Hazel’s final assignment was as staff advisor to young women in the U.S. Women’s Air Force. While serving in that capacity in London, Hazel died of a heart attack in 1956. She was 40 years old.
“Mother, if only you could know how happy I am when I fly a plane! I never feel so completely close to God as when I’m up in the blue. So if you ever get a message that I’ve been in a crackup and have been killed, don’t grieve for me more than you can possibly help; just know I died the way I wanted to.”
Museum of Aviation
Warner Robins, GA 31088