Frances Rohrer Sargent began flying in 1941 in Atlanta, Georgia, then became a Navy Instrument Ground Instructor. In 1943, she was recruited into the fourth class of the famous Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS) during WWII. The training at Sweetwater was just like the cadets’ training. They went to Primary Training in PT-I9s, moved on to Basic Training in BTl3s and 15s, then Advanced Training in AT6 and C-78 light twin trainers. They had appropriate ground school, Link training, physical education, and military procedures.
Fran and some of her class were assigned to the Antiaircraft Artillery Training Group on the North Carolina coast. The assignment given to Ms. Sargent involved towing aerial targets to train antiaircraft crews on the ground, and dropped chaff, from various planes to give ground soldiers experience in shooting a moving target. Additionally, Fran checked out on ten different types of planes including the Douglas SBD Dauntless, Curtiss AT-9 and Beech AT-11 twin engine trainers, Curtiss Helldiver, Lockheed B-34/B- 37 Venturas and others. The WASP’s were disbanded in December 1944 and women did not fly in the military until about 1977. Fran married and settled in Charlotte, NC for ten years and enjoyed their family of a daughter and two sons. In 1956 they decided to move to Florida.
After Ms. Sargent’s children were in school, she started flying again and obtained her FAA Flight Instructor’s Certificate. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at Florida Atlantic University and her Masters Degree in Business Administration at the University of Miami. In 1961 she joined the faculty of Miami-Dade Community College in their newly formed Aviation Program. She holds an Air Transport Pilot Certificate and is a Gold Seal Certified Flight Instructor, as well as a commercial Glider Pilot. She was FAA Examiner for the Written Test for 20 years. She was faculty advisor of the MDCC Flight Team and the National Intercollegiate Flying Association for a number of years and the first woman president of the University Aviation Association.
On two occasions the American Council of Education requested that Fran inspect and evaluate the US Army Helicopter School at Ft. Rucker, Alabama for credit transfer for college credit. During her instructing career, she has successfully taught over 3000 young men and women to fly and advance in ratings. Her experience in the Navy and the WASP led her to an interesting career in aviation. In 1987 she retired as Professor Emeritus from Miami-Dade Community College.
Her achievements brought her a number of awards. In 1996, Fran was awarded the prestigious Wright Brothers Memorial Award from the Greater Miami Aviation Association. She was also awarded the Amelia Earhart Scholarship from the Ninety Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots.
Fran had been an active Board Member of the Wings Over Miami Air Museum being in 2003. In 2009, she was designated a Director Emeritus for her long years of support for military and civilian aviation, her involvement in aviation education and for her commitment to the Wings Over Miami Air Museum.
On December 27, 2013, this inspiring woman passed away. The family has honored Fran by sharing her memorabilia for the museum to display. It is truly a gift of love to the museum.