Barbara Erickson London, a heroic aviator who helped pave the way for women pilots and played a pivotal role in Long Beach aviation history, passed away on Sunday, July 7 in Los Gatos, Calif., surrounded by family and friends. She was 93.
Born on July 1, 1920 in Seattle, Washington, London enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training program in her late teens as a sophomore at the University of Washington. This set in motion a path to become a highly regarded pioneering woman aviator.
In a class of only four women receiving pilot training at the time, she went on to quickly become a flying instructor and flew both land and sea planes. London then arrived in Long Beach after joining the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which was responsible for delivering military aircraft to different parts of the country during World War II. She was the 14th woman to qualify.
At age 23, she became the commanding officer of 80 women assigned to the Long Beach 6th Ferrying Group and later the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), which disbanded one year later. But in 1943, she flew 8,000 miles in 10 days, including four 2,000-mile trips, transporting P-47s, P-51s and C-47s in less than a week.
It was for these intrepid flights that Erickson London was awarded the Air Medal by General “Hap” Arnold. She was the only WASP to receive such a medal during the war.
Her aviation accomplishments, however, didn’t stop there.
After World War II, London married Jack London Jr., also a pilot whom she met in the Ferry Command. Together with other pioneering aviators, she ran a flight school, charter service and aircraft-parts sales business. She later continued her aviation business at the Long Beach Airport.
London also helped to found the All Woman Transcontinental Air Race, also known as the “Powder Puff Derby,” and established the Long Beach Chapter of the Ninety Nines, a now international organization of women pilots. The organization’s first president was famed woman aviator Amelia Earhart.
The local chapter helped Long Beach, Torrance and Orange County to host the transcontinental air race many times through its 30-year history.
Iris Critchell, who served with London in the WAFS for two years, sent the Signal Tribune an emailed statement about her passing.
“Barbara was a rare and wonderful friend for me, and we shared in many different phases of our lives,” she said. “Her grace and poise, as well as strength and quiet leadership, was a privilege to work with and know as a close friend since 1943. I hope that some of her major contributions to aviation, women pilots and the community can be brought to light to inspire others in to the future.”
London and Critchell are both memorialized on the wall of the top floor of the historic terminal building at the Long Beach Airport. The airport named a street after London in 2005, and in 2010 she received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C.
Long Beach Airport staff issued the following statement on London’s passing. “Barbara London served our nation, ferrying airplanes to our troops in the battlefields of WWII,” the statement read. “She has been recognized as an American hero and is known for her groundbreaking role as a woman aviator in our armed forces. Long Beach Airport chose to name a street after her legacy because we are so proud that she is part of the airport’s history. More importantly, we are proud that she is part of the LGB family. We extend our prayers to her loved ones and to all those who admire her bravery and heroism.”