An accomplished aviator, Hazel Raines was the first woman in Georgia to earn a pilot’s license. She began her career as a stunt flyer, performing in daring aviation shows. As one of the first female pilots in the air force, Raines served as a lieutenant in World War II (1941-45) and the Korean War (1950-53).
Born in 1916 in Waynesboro, Hazel Jane Raines grew up in Macon as the youngest of three daughters. She graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon in 1936. Raines began flying shortly after her graduation, when she accepted a dare to take lessons at Herbert Smart Airport in her hometown. She then earned a private pilot’s license and a commercial license with Eastern Air Lines. Raines flew in aviation shows around Macon, gaining a reputation as one of the South’s premier stunt flyers.
Raines was born with asthma and a heart condition that would have barred her from flying under modern aviation standards. She was determined, however, not to let her medical condition or discrimination against female aviators prevent her from becoming a talented pilot.
Raines joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program in order to begin military service in World War II. She was one of only twenty-five women chosen in 1942 to fly with the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) as a ferry pilot. Unarmed in the dangerous skies patrolled by the German air force, the women, flying without radio contact to prevent detection, delivered planes to bomber stations and flew damaged aircraft to repair facilities.
Logging more flight hours than any other pilot in the ATA, Raines learned to fly nearly every type of aircraft. She survived her only plane crash, when the engine of her Spitfire failed. When two men raced to the plane, which had crashed on top of a home in an English village, they were shocked to find a living woman, rather than a dead man, among the wreckage. Although she was hospitalized for two weeks and grounded for three months, Raines looked forward to returning to active duty.
Raines returned to the United States in 1943 and moved to Texas to join a new organization, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Although she no longer served in a war zone, Raines’s job was risky. She worked as a test pilot, flying recently repaired planes, and she pulled targets for army trainees participating in live ammunition practice.
The WASPs faced resistance and hostility, because many people did not want women serving in the military. Although Raines anticipated the day when the U.S. Army Air Corps would acknowledge the WASPs, the recognition did not come until 1977, long after her death. After the WASPs were disbanded in 1944, Raines trained flight students for the Brazilian air ministry.
When the Korean War began in 1950, Raines was the first female reserve pilot called into active service. After the war she acted as an advisor for the British Third Air Force and recruited pilots for the Women in the Air Force (WAF) and the Women’s Army Corps. In 1954 Raines became the staff advisor for the WAF, assisting young women with their careers as pilots.
While in London in 1956, Raines died of a heart attack at the age of forty. In 1989 she was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame as “Georgia’s First Lady of Flight,” and in 1995 she was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement.