Margaret Ray Hilgenberg
June 17, 1921 ~ July 28, 2008
US Army WASP
Margaret Ray was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She first became interested in aviation at the age of eight after watching a barnstormer aircraft landing near her family farm. As a child, her neighbors would at times take her into the air in cropdusters. After learning more about flight, she initially wanted to be a flight attendant rather than a pilot, as she told journalist Tom Brokaw (who featured her in the book The Greatest Generation) in an interview later in her life.
"I started out flying because I wanted to be a stewardess... and I thought 'what if the pilot gets sick or needs help? I don't know the first thing about airplanes' and that's where I found my challenge. I never intended to solo or be a pilot. I found it was wonderful".
After taking lessons, Ray had her first solo flight in early 1941 at the age of 19. In 1943, she became a pilot with the United States Army's Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, ferrying aircraft from factories to military bases in the continental United States. In 1945, after the WASP program was disbanded, she briefly worked a commercial aircraft pilot then became a civilian flight instructor; she would hold the latter profession on and off until retirement. When the Pacific War ended, she was hired by a local radio station on a leaflet-dropping mission over Fort Wayne, with the notes titled "Japan Surrenders!", flying as low as only about 100 feet in altitude. In 1946, she married Morris Ringenberg and took his last name; they would later have two children.
In the 1950s, Ringenberg became racing aircraft, becoming regular participants to races such as the Powder Puff Derby, the Air Race Classic, the Grand Prix, the Denver Mile High, among others. In 1979, she ferried US Senate candidate Dan Quayle around Indiana on his campaign. In 1988, she won the Air Race Classic. In 1994, she completed the Round-the-World Air Race at the age of 72, with two co-pilots. In 1998, she published her autobiography Girls Can't Be Pilots.
In 1999, she was awarded the NAA Elder Statements in Aviation Award in Washington, DC, United States. In Mar 2001, she flew in a race from London, England, United Kingdom to Sydney, Australia at the age of 79. In 2003, her husband passed away. In 2007, her daughter Marsha Wright published the book Maggie Ray: World War II Air Force Pilot about her. In 2008, she completed the 2,312-mile Air Race Classic race at the age of 87. About a month after completing the Air Race Classic, she passed away in her sleep in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, United States while attending the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual air show. At the time of her death, she had logged over 40,000 hours in the air.
Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation"
Smithsonian Institution (Photo)