Sarah Wins Aviation Writing Award

Sarah’s Books Win Combs-Gates Aviation Writing Award

Tuesday, September 10, lightning — the good kind — struck a second time. I learned that I had won my second Combs-Gates Award, this time for my two most recent books. BJ Erickson: WASP Pilot and Nancy Love: WASP Pilot, the biographies for younger readers 10 and up — that you’ve been reading about in this blog — brought the honor my way.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) awards the Combs-Gates for projects that reflect an emphasis on the individual pioneers – the people – who defined America’s aerospace horizons.

I also won in 2009 for WASP of the Ferry Command: Women Pilots, Uncommon Deeds, the first history of the women ferry pilots of WWII. Like the two winning biographies, it is about the contributions people have made to aviation.

By honoring these two young-adult-focused books, the NAHF has helped me launch an effort to further recognition of these pioneering women pilots for the best audience of all, the young women — and men — of today. Tomorrow’s aviation enthusiasts!


“Why should the National Aviation Hall of Fame select your project for the Combs-Gates Award?” was one of the questions I was asked to answer.

Stories of female aviators need to be told. Women who will make aviation news tomorrow are the young girls who, today, stand ready to learn about these inspirational role models through my books, those written by others, and through the NAHF.

As of September 28, 2019, eighteen women will have been enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Nancy Love, founder of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron in 1942 and the leader of the WASP of the Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command in 1943-44, is one of them. Women still are a small minority of the enshrinees. We look forward to having more in the future.

Who will these women be?

Surely one or more of today’s young women will earn a future spot in the Hall of Fame. But how will they learn about our women pioneers in aviation if we do not research, write, and publish their stories? My goal is to put these stories where today’s young women can read them — in libraries and schools. Maybe they will decide aviation or space flight is their calling.


When we reach out to the young and impressionable and give them something of value, something that catches their interest, we’ve reached the “public” of the future.

Consider this: What the WASP did in the early 1940s wasn’t talked about for fifty years! In the early 1990s, when I began researching the WASP, I could count the books about them on one hand.

In the BJ Erickson and Nancy Love books and others, today’s young people will read about personal patriotism, the desire to contribute, and to serve their country. Yes, they will learn of sacrifice.  Some of the WASP died flying for their country, though not in combat. Still, the stories of these women remain largely unknown.

These books are 25,000 words in length rather than the 75,000 – 100,000 that constitute most adult books. They tell stories of real women. They are biography — not fiction.

These books are written to captivate young minds, hopefully opening up the world of flight to them in the process. Yes, they are intended to be learning tools for young people, but they make good reads. I will not write down to young people. Yes, they may have to go to the dictionary if a word baffles them. Including a glossary to help them is important.


This project has the potential to grow. Two books are out there, but other inspiring WASP stories are waiting to be told. The stories of the women they inspired — the second and third generations of women pilots active today — also will need telling.

Christa McAuliffe said in 1985, when preparing for the flight of the Challenger, “I touch the future, I teach.”

I don’t teach, but I do write. So I borrowed three of her words: The Hall of Fame is “touching the future” by supporting the telling of these worthy stories from aviation’s past for the adults of tomorrow.

The Combs-Gates award honors its founder, the late Harry B. Combs, a 1996 NAHF Enshrinee who was a significant force in civil aviation. Combs also researched and wrote one of the definitive works on the brilliance of the Wright Brothers, Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secrets of the Wright Brothers. The late entrepreneur, Charles C. Gates, shared Combs’ passion for historic preservation, thus the award bears his name as well.

I’ve read Kill Devil Hill, it is terrific!

Combs stipulated that the award be established to encourage and support relevant aviation history research and preservation efforts. A panel of expert judges review each submission based upon criteria such as historical accuracy, creativity, potential for long-term impact, and value to the NAHF’s mission of honoring America’s outstanding air and space pioneers.


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