Born in 1921 in a small coal-mining town in Eastern Ukraine, Nadezhda Popova dreamed of becoming a teacher or a nurse when she was young. Then one day a pilot was blown off course and landed in a field near her school.
"We all rushed out of the school and we saw him landing," she told the BBC in a 2009 interview. "We touched his jacket; we touched his hands. We thought the men who were flying were absolutely extraordinary—as if they were coming from another planet. My dream was not only to fly, but to man the plane myself. To fly like a bird."
Popova went on to achieve that dream, joining the Soviet Union’s first all-women division of fighter-pilots in World War II. The Nazis called them “Night Witches” because their plywood and canvas airplanes sounded like witches’ broomsticks, and because they carried out their raids exclusively at night.
In 30,000 thousand missions over four years, the Night Witches dumped more than 20,000 tons of bombs on the Germans. Popova herself flew 852 missions. She died last week in Moscow at age 91.
Amy Goodpaster Strebe, author of “Flying for Her Country: The American and Soviet Women Military Pilots of World War II” explains Popova's legacy, and the forgotten history of these courageous women fighter pilots.