The WASP Museum in Sweetwater recently received some special visitors when Wally Funk visited the museum with two of her flight students, Patty Herbel and Christi Yong.
"I just wanted to bring the girls with me so that we could visit the museum," said Funk.
Wally Funk has been flying professionally since 1957 and she has accumulated over 18,000 hours of flying time. "I have known about 120 WASPs in my 55 years of flying, so this is like homecoming for me," she said.
Christi Yong visited Sweetwater with Funk from San Diego. Yong is a predator engineer. Patty Herbel is an American Eagle pilot and the three arrived at the WASP Museum in her plane.
Funk said that she knew Jackie Cochran well. Cochran was the director of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). As director of the WASP, Cochran supervised the training of hundreds of women pilots at the former Avenger Field in Sweetwater.
Funk was also a part of the Mercury 13 and is the only left of the group who still flies for a living. The Mercury 13 were 25 women, narrowed down to 13, who participated in and passed the very same physical and psychological tests that determined the original astronauts.
Funk has many flight students that come to Texas from all over the world to receive her training. Funk says that she now teaches mostly high school and college students that are going into the military or the airline business.
As a child, Funk was interested in mechanics and built model airplanes and ships. At the age of 14, she became an expert marksman, receiving the Distinguished Rifleman's Award. At the same time she represented the southwestern United States as Top Female Skier, Slalom and Downhill races in United States competition.
At age 16 she entered Stephen's College in Columbia, Missouri. She graduated in 1958 with an Associate of Arts degree and rated first in her class of 24 flyers. In 1964 her work in aviation was recognized when she became the youngest woman in the history of the college to receive the Alumna Achievement Award.
She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education and earned her Commercial, Single-engine Land, Multi-engine Land, Single-engine Sea, Instrument, Flight Instructor's and all Ground Instructor's ratings at Oklahoma State University. While attending OSU Funk was elected as an officer of the famous "Flying Aggies" and flew for them in the International Collegiate Air Meets. She received the "Outstanding Female Pilot" trophy, the "Flying Aggie Top Pilot" and the "Alfred Alder Memorial Trophy" two years in succession.
Her first job at age 20 was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as a Civilian Flight Instructor of noncommissioned and commissioned officers of the United States Army. To date, as a professional Flight Instructor she has soloed more than 700 students and put through thousands of Private, Commercial, Multi-engine, Seaplane, Glider, Instrument, CFI, Al and Air Transport Pilots.
In February 1961, at the age of 21 Funk volunteered for the "Women in Space" Program with an independent clinic which had the support but not the official sponsorship of NASA. Only 25 women were chosen for testing. She underwent a series of rigorous physical and mental tests and passed with a very high average, rating 3rd in the field of 13 qualifying. It was at that time that she became fully absorbed with the idea of becoming an astronaut and traveling into space.
Funk has since flown the C.S.T. Apollo Static Space Simulator at Edward's Air Force Base Flight Test Center. In the fall of 1961, she accepted a job as a Certified Flight Instructor, Charter, and Chief Pilot with an aviation company in Hawthorne, California.
In recognition of her outstanding ability, accomplishments and service to her community, country and profession, Funk was selected as one of the "Outstanding Young Women in America" in 1965. Later, she was listed in "Who's Who in Young Women in America" and "Who's Who in Aviation".
She has received the FAA Gold Seal as a Flight Instructor and became the 58th woman in the United States to receive the Airline Transport Rating.
In 1970, she received the Commercial Glider Rating and taught five Aeronautical Science classes at Redondo High School in California. She was recognized by Sacramento's Educational Board for giving high school students a head start and interest in aviation.
Funk was a goodwill flying ambassador on an extensive three-year tour entailing 50 countries and covering some 80,000 miles in Europe and the Mid-East, including the circumscribing of Africa. While touring Russia, an attempt was made to meet Valentia Tereschkova in Moscow. The Russian government decided that this meeting might not be a good idea, due to competition in space flight programs at the time. However, she and Funk did have the opportunity to meet some years later at another event.
In 1971 she was the first woman to successfully complete the FAA General Aviation Operations Inspector Academy course, which includes Pilot Certification and Flight Testing procedures, handling accidents and violations. This exposure has led to an interest in other aspects of flying, namely parachute jumping, ballooning and hang-gliding.
In 1973 she was promoted to FAA SWAP (Systems Worthiness Analysis Program) as a specialist, the first woman in the United States to hold this position. In late November 1973, Funk again entered the FAA Academy to take courses involving air-taxi, charter and aviation rental businesses. Upon completion of this course, her duties included traveling to Arizona, Nevada and California to inspect flight schools and air taxi operations.
This accomplished lady flyer has participated in several Air Races. She placed 8th in the Powder Puff Derby's 25th Annual Race, 6th in the Pacific Air Race and 8th in the Palms to Pines Air Race. On August 16, 1975, she placed second in the Palms to Pines All Women Air Race from Santa Monica, California to Independence, Oregon. On October 4, 1975, flying her red and white Citabria, Funk won the Pacific Air Race from San Diego, California to Santa Rosa, California against 80 participating competitors.
Funk has appeared on numerous television and radio programs and spoken to more than 50 professional organizations. In November 1973, she was interviewed on the "Ad Lib" television program "What Will The Women Be Doing In The Year 2000?" and on the "Mike Douglas Television Show." In the fall of 1975 she was interviewed on Gene Burke's television program "Salute of Women In Aviation". In an interview February, 1995 is when NBC's "Dateline" featured ten of the original 13 female astronaut candidates.
She has been featured in such magazines as "Life," "Town and Country" and "Ms Magazine"; appeared on the front cover of the "Oklahoma State Alumnus" magazine, "Aviation News Illustrated" and was featured in "Women in Aeronautics" by Charles Paul May; "Ladybirds II The Continuing Story of American Women in Aviation" by Henry M. Holden and Captain Lori Griffith; "Woman into Space," "The Jerrie Cobb Story," "Amelia Earhart's Daughters," "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aviation in Space" and "Aerospace Education." In 1969 Funk was featured in eight European and South African magazines.
On December 9, 1974 Wally accepted the job of Air Safety Investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, DC. She was their first female Investigator. In Washington, she attended two schools for field investigators in order to learn the many elements contributing to airplane accidents and how to investigate them. She hopes the end result of investigations will be to keep the same type of accident from occurring again.
While aviation has claimed a large part of Funk's life, (she says flight instruction and airplane racing are "hobbies"), she does have other interests. She likes sports and restoring antique automobiles, which includes a 1951 Hooper Silver Wraith.
June 23, 1975 found Wally at a luncheon at the White House in Washington, D.C. at the request of Mrs. Gerald Ford. That same year the Governor of Louisiana named her Honorary Colonel.