Eden Prairie News
Micky Axton is
still flying high Submitted by
Karla on October 29, 2008 - 3:33pm.
Eden Prairie aviator was the first woman to
fly a B-29, in 1944, when she was serving as
a test pilot.
By John Molene
Dressed in a blue blazer that shows off her
proudly won gold Navy aviation wings and a
host of other flying honors, Mildred “Micky”
Axton apologizes for the mess as she opens
her apartment door.
It’s less mess than museum, however. Every
wall, and virtually every flat surface above
the carpet level, is filled with dozens of
photos and awards, old newspaper and
magazine stories, medals, uniforms, model
airplanes and countless other memorabilia.
||And why not?
The Eden Prairie resident has been flying
high since the late 1920s, and along the way
she has managed to pick up an almost
limitless supply of flying keepsakes.
Axton was already an experienced
24-year-old pilot when she became the first
woman to fly a B-29 in 1944, while serving
as an Army Air Force test pilot. She was
already 14 years into her flying days when
that historic flight occurred.
Her first airplane flight was in a
neighbor’s World War I vintage Curtiss Jenny
biplane in 1929 when she was just 10 years
old. The neighbor would take kids up for $1
rides, and Axton was an eager volunteer.
“We just loved it, my brother and me,”
she recalled. “Every time I saw a plane in
I wanted to be up there.”
Born in Coffeyville, Kan., in 1919 where
her grandfather was the chief of police,
Axton graduated from Coffeyville Senior High
School in 1936, took classes in math,
science and physics at Coffeyville Community
College and went on to major in chemistry
and math at Kansas State University, where
she graduated in 1940 with a teaching
Rather than teach, however, it was off to
the tarmac and the classroom for Axton. She
was selected into the Civilian Pilot
Training CPT) program at Coffeyville
Community College – the only woman accepted
in her class. She taught classes in math,
chemistry and aviation ground school and
coached the debate team while earning her
pilot’s license in the program.
Axton then received a letter from
aviation pioneer Jacqueline Cochran,
inviting her to join the Women’s Airforce
Service Pilots (WASPs). Cochran had
convinced Gen. “Hap” Arnold to allow women
pilots to serve as ferry aircraft pilots,
thus freeing up male pilots for combat duty.
Axton leapt at the offer and began flight
training with the WASPs in June 1943 in
“She knew if she could get women pilots
trained, men could be released for combat,”
Axton underwent the same training as male
pilots. She flew a PT-19 in the primary
phase of her training, learning to do rolls,
loops and spins. She also earned her
instrument rating and learned Morse Code.
Axton graduated from flight training in
November 1943 and was assigned to Pecos,
Texas, as an engineering test pilot. Three
of the 10 pilots in her class washed out,
but not Axton.
If they were good enough, and she was,
Axton and other women test pilots were
assigned to conduct test flights on damaged
aircraft that had been repaired to ensure
they were flight worthy. By filling these
roles, the women pilots freed male pilots
for combat duty. Axton, however, noted that
most of the WASP pilots would have flown
combat missions had they been allowed the
“We were so happy to help,” Axton said.
“I did the war because for a long, long
time, we were losing it.”
Test piloting was, and remains, a
dangerous occupation. In one test flight,
the plane Axton was flying developed engine
failure shortly after takeoff. She radioed
for the field to be cleared and made an
emergency landing in a crosswind on one
engine, without damaging the aircraft.
One of her best WASP friends, wasn’t so
lucky. The plane Tommy Tompkins was flying
disappeared while on a test flight of a P-51
over the Pacific in 1944 and never returned.
Some 38 WASPs died during their service,
In 1944, Axton left the WASPs and returned
to Wichita, Kan., to work as a flight test
engineer for Boeing Aircraft. She flew B-29s
to ensure systems were operating as
On May 4, 1944, Axton became the first
female pilot to fly a Boeing B-29
Superfortress, a four-engine
propeller-powered heavy bomber that was
flown by the U.S. military in World War II
and Korea. It was one of the largest
aircraft of its time and one of most
advanced bombers of World War II.
Asked to come up and take the controls on
a test flight, Axton didn’t hesitate to fly
the big bird, piloting just the 16th of the
more than 1,600 B-29s that were manufactured
at the Boeing plant.
“My instructor said, Micky, why don’t you
come up and fly this thing for a while,”
Axton recalled. “I was in hog heaven. I felt
like the luckiest gal in the whole world.”
When the war ended, Axton returned to
teaching, returned to Wichita. Some time
after, her family bought a small cottage in
Two Harbors, which began her Minnesota
Aviation was definitely in her family’s
blood, Axton said.
Axton’s brother, Ralph “Tut” Tuttle,
became a World War II fighter pilot serving
in the Pacific. He flew an estimated 250
missions and earned two Distinguished Flying
Crosses and a Silver Star.
During World War II, her husband David Axton
worked at an aircraft factory, while her
mother and father helped take care of the
couple’s baby daughter.
“My mother would have been a pilot, too,
if she had a chance to,” Axton said.
remained very active in regional and area
air shows since World War II, and still
relishes the chance to speak of her flying
experiences at schools, churches and clubs.
Her husband died 10 years ago. She moved to
Minnesota to be closer to her daughter who
lives in the state.
She’s been a member of the Commemorative
Air Force (CAF) for more than 40 years. The
CAF Jayhawk Wing in Wichita restored a PT-23
primary trainer and named it “Miss Micky” in
her honor. To her knowledge, she is the only
WASP to be so honored.