Margaret J. "Maggie" Ringenberg took her first airplane ride at the age of seven from a farmer's field in rural Indiana. She was called to be a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1943, became a flight instructor in 1945 and has flown as a commercial pilot ever since. She has been racing since 1957 in various competitions, including the Powder Puff Derby, Classic Air Race, Grand Prix, Great Southern, Denver Mile High, Kentucky Air Derby, Michigan SMALL Race and many others; she has won numerous times and has over 150 trophies. From the time she soloed in 1941 until she completed the 'Round-the-World Air Race in 1994 at the age of 72, she has logged over 40,000 hours. In 1998, she addressed 1,000 cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and received a standing ovation.
Television news journalist Tom Brokaw devoted a chapter to Ringenberg in his best-selling book The Greatest Generation, and she has written her own book, Girls Can't Be Pilots. In November 1999, Ringenberg received the National Aeronautic Association Elder Statesman in Aviation award in a presentation ceremony in Washington, DC. In March 2001, she flew a race from London, England, to Sydney, Australia. She and her then-eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Jaala, flew to Houston in June 2002 where she addressed astronauts and others at the Johnson Space Center. In June 2003, she placed 2nd in the Air Race Classic with a flyby over historic Kitty Hawk. In July of that year, she spoke on Bob Dole's birthday at the opening of the Dole Institute in Lawrence, Kansas.
She was also interviewed, while flying, for a special NBC Today Show segment on "Ladies in their Eighties." A great-grandmother now, Ringenberg still loves to fly and enjoys remaining active. She was invited to the Indianapolis Speedway and took a lap in an Indy-style racecar with driver Sarah Fisher who started the 500-mile race in row 5. "I went 180 miles an hour on the backstretch," Ringenberg said. In June 2005, at the age of 84, she flew the Air Race Classic and placed in the top 10. Based on her achievements in flight, Ringenberg was invited to the dedication of the Air Force Memorial in Washington, DC, in October 2006. Along with 13 other WASPs, she was just two rows away from President George W. Bush when he officially received the memorial on behalf of the nation, and she received a commemorative medallion.
She has been married to Morris Ringenberg for more than 55 years. They have two children and five grandchildren. As of early 2007, she is still flying and speaking about her experiences. At the age of 85, Ringenberg assures audiences that she is still not ready to retire to the rocking chair and that, "I can hardly wait to see what the next twenty years bring for me."
As a pilot in 1943, then-WASP Ringenberg's dream took flight. Although not allowed to fly combat missions, WASP members served grueling, dangerous tours of duty. Ferrying, test flying and target towing were risky activities. Some WASP members suffered injuries, and 38 were killed in the course of duty. During World War II, these women were employed by the US Civil Service and did not have the officer commissions, benefits and pay of the military. In 1977, after much lobbying of Congress, the WASPs garnered military active status.