Elinor Otto was one of the original Rosie the Riveters who built bomber aircraft during World War II. Filling in for the men in the factories so they could go overseas and fight at the time, the women who would come to be known as Rosie the Riveter were essential to winning the war. At 98 years old, and newly retired, Otto recently took her first flight in one of the airplanes she helped build.
Otto signed up to work building airplanes in 1942, just six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She worked at the Rohr Aircraft Corporation in Chula Vista, California. Once World War II ended, the Rosies were let go, but Elinor didn’t ever want to go back to a job behind a desk. She stayed on in aerospace by getting a job at Ryan Aeronautical Co., then later moving to McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft, which would become Boeing.
Her career in aeronautics would last 68 years, retiring in 2014 at the age of 95.
In December, she was invited to March Air Reserve Base in California to receive the Lifetime Achievement Medal from the Air Force Association and speak with a group of Junior ROTC, ROTC, Civilian Air Patrol cadets and inspire them to be innovators, leaders, and hard workers. That’s when she got the opportunity to do the one thing she’d never done before.
Her flight in a C-17 Globemaster III was piloted by Gen. Carlton Everhart, the head of Air Mobile Command. She spent several hours in the sky — including having the C-17 refueled mid-air by a 452nd Air Mobility Wing KC-135 — finally flying in one of the planes that she built.
And there’s no question about whether or not Elinor helped build that particular aircraft. Because of her long and dedicated career, Elinor has actually helped build every single C-17 Globemaster that has ever been built — she just never had a chance to fly in one until now.
“She changed the world in two ways,” Gen. Everhart said of Otto. “The first is the aircraft she has built. The second is the people she has built.”
Elinor’s message to the young people at the ceremony was an inspirational one, but also a push to pursue careers in technology. “People have got to keep studying high technology,” she said. “I tell these young people to get a good education and learn and get a wonderful, technical job.”
“I know that they are ambitious, willing to try anything, and I am proud of them,” Elinor added. “If I can inspire one person in my life it is such an honor.”
Listen to Elinor Otto talk about becoming a “Rosie the Riveter” in this video!