COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A member of a pioneering group of women who flew military planes in the United States during World War II has died.

Millicent Young of Colorado Springs, a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, died Saturday of complications related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, her son Bill Young told The Gazette. She was 96.

WASPs flew bombers and other warplanes to free up male pilots for combat service overseas. They served as civilian employees but were granted veteran status in 1977.

Of the about 1,000 women chosen for the job, fewer than 30 are still believed to be alive, said Bill Young, who wrote a book about the program.

"They opened so many doors for women," he said.

Women Airforce Service Pilots, left to right, Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn at Lockbourne Army Air Field, Ohio, 1944. These women pilots were some of the first to ferry B-17
Women Airforce Service Pilots, left to right, Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn at Lockbourne Army Air Field, Ohio, 1944. These women pilots were some of the first to ferry B-17 "Flying Fortress" bombers. More than 1,000 WASP provided essential military air support in the United States during World War II.

Young, born near Lodgepole, Nebraska, dreamed of flying since she was 6 when a pilot landed at her family's farm and told her "Don't touch that plane, little girl", according to her family. She learned to fly at an airstrip in Ogallala, Nebraska, using money she earned growing wheat on land leased from neighbors.

She told The Spokesman-Review in 2010 that she could drive a truck and a car by the time she was 10 and did not doubt she could qualify for the WASPs.

She spent about a year at a female-only air base in Sweetwater, Texas, mainly flying an AT-6 Texan single-engine plane towing a target so male pilots could train for in-air combat.

Young and other surviving WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, among the nation’s highest civilian honors, in 2010.