Iris Cummings Critchell became interested in aviation at a young age. She studied physical sciences and mathematics at the University of Southern California, and also swam competitively. Critchell traveled to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics as a swimmer representing the United States. Her educational and athletic background made her an ideal candidate for the University of Southern California’s first Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1939.
In 1940, Critchell earned her pilot’s license and, after graduating from USC instructed at various flight schools. Her educational background taught her the adaptability and flexibility needed to transition teaching through informal and more rigorous programs.
In early 1942, Critchell received a telegram asking if she would be interested in becoming a ferry pilot if needed. By December that year, Critchell became a part of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron.
After Critchell logged her 500 hours of flying, she joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots. She became a member of the 6th Ferrying Group stationed out of Long Beach, California. During her service, she flew 27 different types of military aircraft, nearly 30 types of civilian aircraft and flew 18 military aircraft as pilot in command. One of her more memorable memories was delivering P-51s to Newark, New Jersey.
Critchell met her husband and fellow military pilot, Howard Critchell, during her service. After the war, Critchell raised her children, but also worked as a part-time flight instructor. In 1962, Critchell, her husband and Isabel Bates founded the Bates Aeronautics Program at Harvey Mudd College.
The National Flight Instructors inducted her into the Hall of Fame in 2000 for her exemplary career as a flight instructor.
More of her story is at
We honor her service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Annaleigh Cummings
Editor: Joseph Cardinal
Graphic artist: Brett Blandford