The Incident of the Propeller

While in training at the military air force school in Engels in the fall of 1941, Lily got into trouble for balking at getting her hair cut and altering her uniform to make it more flattering. She had spunk, and that could be dangerous. Before the war, people were sent to the Gulag for showing initiative. Yet it worked for her as a pilot, enabling her to become a fighter ace taking risks that paid off. When the odds were against her, she was heroic. The first hint of that came while she was still in training, when another pilot was stranded during a snow storm. A fellow pilot remembers:

“In December 1941, I met another brave girl from the 586th [Women’s] Fighter Regiment–Lily Litvyak. We were all shocked and delighted by her. In Engels, a blizzard had been raging for days. People were pushed over by the wind. But a propeller was needed for a crashed aircraft. Flying in this weather was prohibited, but Lily Litvyak left without permission and brought the propeller. The head of the flying school, Colonel Bagaev, reprimanded her for failing to obey orders, and Major Raskova challenged him, saying, I am proud of my brave and courageous women pilots!” (Source: Irina Dryagina)

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