Phyllis Tobias Felker, who flew with the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II, died of cancer at her Springfield, Va., home July 22. She was 86.
Born in Detroit, she was the daughter of a Ford dealer who enjoyed taking his daughters to air shows where her first biplane flight nurtured a love of flying, she said. After graduating from high school at the age of 16, she attended Indiana University where, in 1940, she earned her private pilot license. She became a WASP in 1943.
Unlike military pilots, who usually flew the same type of aircraft routinely, WASP pilots had to fly whatever was assigned to them on any given day. Felker ferried “everything from trainers and fighters to bombers and large cargo planes.”
After the WASP were disbanded in 1945, she married Air Force pilot Alex Felker with whom she lived on three continents. They were based in Shanghai when China was swept by the communist revolution. To her dismay, the family was evacuated. “She just loved China,” Frank Felker, a son, recalled. The family settled in Virginia in 1961.
After her divorce in 1974, Felker became a pioneer in what now is a very common business, deciding that Springfield needed “a store that sells copies.” Despite having no business or printing experience, she led the company to annual revenues of more than $1 million before she sold it in 1997.
Until her death she remained active with the WASP, speaking at churches and schools about her flying and encouraging young people to take an interest in aviation. She was a charter member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.