A local expert on the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II was recently doubly honored with a prestigious award and cash prize.
Colorado Springs-based author Sarah Byrn Rickman has published nine novels, two of which received the Combs-Gates Award. The honor, presented by the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Las Vegas on Oct. 22, came with a $20,000 cash prize.
The award is judged on historical accuracy, creativity, presentation and public appeal and includes films, books, research papers, websites, artworks, illustrations, restorations and exhibits. Rickman was recognized for her two-book young adult series, “WASP Pilots.” The books are “Nancy Love: Wasp Pilot” and “BJ Erickson: Wasp Pilot,” two crucial and inspirational female pilots of World War II and American history.
Rickman was also chosen for induction into the International Forest of Friendship, Atchison, Kan., a memorial to the world history of aviation and aerospace. The IFF was founded in 1976, a gift from the City of Atchison (famed aviator Amelia Earhart’s birthplace) and the Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Women Pilots. Trees in the forest represent all 50 states and 35 foreign countries. Rickman was honored with a plaque in the Colorado section of the forest.
A Denver native, Sarah began writing at an early age, recalling memories as young as 5, when she would reinvent her own tales of “Winnie the Pooh” and remembers being a very visual thinker. By age 14, while a student at East High School, she took a strong interest in journalism and went on to pursue a career in writing, establishing herself as a reporter and columnist in at The Detroit News in Michigan, editor of two suburban Ohio newspapers, and finally in Colorado.
A pilot of vintage tailwheel aircraft, Rickman first discovered her passion for WASP while working at the International Women’s Air and Space Museum in Centerville, Ohio. There she met Joan Brubeck, a member of the Ninety-Nines, the international organization for recreational and professional female pilots, who introduced her to WASP. “Joan Brubeck was my biggest educator. She was a walking encyclopedia of women’s and men’s aviation,” said Rickman, who now resides in Colorado Springs.
Rickman and Brubeck helped to promote and establish the museum’s cause and created three short films, featuring the women who spoke on behalf of women’s aviation.
“I said to Joan (Brubeck), ‘I think we ought to not only record [audio] but film as well.’ So, I took Joan with me [to the TV station], I knew the guy who was in charge of programming there, Dave Gordon. Joan and I talked to him and he bought right into it. The three of us produced our first-year series of three films in November of 1990 and 1991.”
Throughout her career Sarah was fortunate to meet a handful of the remaining WASP members who served in World War II and discuss their experiences. She describes their efforts as both heroic and inspirational, “The fact that they lived in the 1940s and that they’re great-great-grandmothers now doesn’t matter, it’s what they did in aviation and how they did it and stuck to it and the service that they performed for their country during World War II.”
Rickman’ WASP series has been described as both encouraging to young readers and inspiring to all women. She aims to have her works incorporated into school literature as well as history. “It should be part of history class. Really, it should, and it’s one of my aims right now and because of the Combs-Gates, this is made possible,” she said.
Notabley, Rickman also won the Comes-Gates Award in 2009 for her book “WASP of the Ferry Command: Women Pilots, Uncommon Deeds.”
When asked what’s in store for the future, Sarah replied, “I am currently almost finished with [book three of the series], it should be out next year. It’s about Betty Gilley, WASP pilot. When I have hers done, I will have biographies of the top three women in the ferry command.”
Rickman aims to educate and inspire young readers, allowing them to understand the impact that the leaders of the WASP not only established for women’s rights but their sacrifices for their country.
Learn more about Rickman and her books at sarahbyrnrickman.com.