First MAF pilot honored for wartime service

By April 2, 2010

USA (MNN) — Betty Greene's fascination with becoming a pilot began in childhood.

A devout Presbyterian who enjoyed ministering in her church's youth group, she also sensed God had called her to use airplanes to further missionary work — even though at the time, there was no such thing as mission aviation.

Greene, who was the first pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), was recently honored at a Capitol Hill ceremony for her service to this country.

While training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, for the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) program, Greene wrote a pair of articles for Christian publications about how flying could advance Christian ministry. Three American military pilots responded by sharing with her their vision for creating the Christian Airmen's Missionary Fellowship.

After word came that WASP would disband in December 1944, Greene moved to California to set up an office for the fledgling group. It eventually connected with combat pilots of like vision in the UK, Australia and New Zealand to become Mission Aviation Fellowship. Greene flew MAF's first flight, which was in partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Mexico.

In addition to Peru and Sudan, Greene piloted MAF aircraft while based in Nigeria and New Guinea.
In an article at, Dave and Neta Jackson say that on Betty Greene's sixteenth birthday, her father gave her and her twin brother the gift of an airplane ride.

"Aviation was the frontier of the day with Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and Amelia Earhart's flight in 1928. Betty, born on June 24, 1920 in Seattle, followed each event with enthusiasm and saved every penny to take flying lessons for herself," they write.

The Jackson's say that Betty's Christian parents supported her interests in aviation, but when it came to college, they encouraged her to enroll in a nursing program at the University of Washington.

"That did not suit Betty, and she dropped out after two years," the Jacksons state.

Then an elderly Christian woman, who knew of Betty's interest in aviation, suggested that she combine her flying with missionary work. "Of course, dear," she said, "think of all the time — and sometimes lives — that could be saved if missionaries didn't have to spend weeks hacking their way through jungles."
"Suddenly," the Jacksons say, "Betty had a direction for her life."

She returned to school to study for missions and continued working toward her pilot's license. When World War II broke out, she signed up as a WASP (Woman's Air Force Service Pilot) to get additional flying experience while serving her country. As a WASP, she ferried many kinds of planes –from fighters to bombers — from their factories to where they were needed. She also served as a high-altitude test pilot and towed targets for live ammo anti-aircraft gunnery drills.

The Jacksons say that one day she wrote an article for InterVarsity's HIS magazine about using planes to help missionaries–something that had been done previously in only a few isolated situations. When Navy pilot Jim Truxton read the article, he contacted Betty and suggested starting an aviation organization to serve missionaries when the war ended. The Christian Airmen's Missionary Fellowship was officially born on May 20, 1945. Later it changed its name to Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF).

Betty, who was released from the service before the other interested pilots, helped set up offices in Los Angeles. After the new organization obtained its first airplane–a red Waco biplane, Betty flew it down to Mexico to help Wycliffe Bible Translators in their jungle training camp. Thus she became MAF's first official pilot.

At age 26, Betty was finally doing what God had prepared her for. And she loved it! The flight into or out of the jungle camp took one hour and 45minutes, whereas hiking through the jungle required ten days to two weeks.

According to the Jacksons, altogether Betty flew more than 4,800 hours, bringing medical supplies and food to missionaries, ferrying sick and injured people to hospitals, and carrying missionary children to their schools or to be with their parents for vacation. She served in Mexico, Peru, Africa, and Indonesia.
In 1962 she retired from fieldwork but continued to ferry planes for MAF from time to time. Finally, she returned to the Seattle for the last years of her life. She died in April 1997.

As the first pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship, Betty Greene became the first woman to fly across the Andes and the first woman to pilot an aircraft in Sudan, says an MAF press release.

But Greene, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II, wasn't one to talk about her pioneering achievements. As WASP aviators, Greene and 1,100 other women took on non-combat flying duties that often were hazardous, freeing up male pilots for combat.

According to the release, Betty wasn't looking for publicity, and the last thing she wanted to do was brag about any of it. Had it not been for Greene's parents sharing her exploits with the rest of the family, not even her closest kin might have known much about her work.

"I never got the feeling that any of the Greene siblings ever thought anything they did was heroic," said Naraelle Hohensee, Greene's grand-niece who represented her great aunt this month at a Capitol Hill ceremony that honored WASPs with a Congressional Gold Medal.

Betty Greene's older brother, Al, who in 1940 sailed with his wife to China as a missionary, is Hohensee's grandfather. Hohensee found that attitude of humble sacrifice common among her great-grandparents' children and the women of their generation who received honors.

"I got the feeling it didn't faze the women who actually did it. They didn't realize they were doing anything out of the ordinary," Hohensee said. "They just did what they loved.

"I think Aunt Betty felt the same way. She was doing what she loved and didn't think anything else of it."
Greene died April 10, 1997, of Alzheimer's at her home on Lake Washington near Seattle. She was 77.
Hohensee thinks her Aunt Betty would have shared the attitude of the WASP program's 112 pilots who attended the ceremony.

"The women are happy to be honored, but they weren't exulting in the honor," Hohensee said. "She probably would have said the real glory was in her mission work.

"For her, WASP was really more of a means to an end: flying experience and to make her way into mission work."


Leave a Reply