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Expedition Unknown exclusive: Missing WASP pilot Gertrude ‘Tommy’ Tompkins mystery explored

World War II hero Gertrude "Tommy" Tompkins of the Women Air Force Service Pilots, who went missing, can Gates solve the mystery?
World War II hero Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins of the Women Air Force Service Pilots, who went missing, can Gates solve the mystery? Pic credit: Discovery

On the next episode of Expedition Unknown on Discovery, Josh Gates takes us on a historical and emotional journey and heads to Los Angeles in search of the truth of the whereabouts of Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) pilot Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins. She was a striking brunette whose plane went missing after take off in Los Angeles during World War II.

What we know is that she was a stunner, accomplished, smart and recently married before she served her country.

Gates explores this intriguing case of the only lost WASP whose remains were never found. During World War II in 1944, Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins was flying from California to New Jersey when her plane went missing.  Josh joins search teams using cutting-edge technology to bring the lost hero home.

In our exclusive clip, he says, “All told 38 wasp Air Force pilots died in service. Tommy is the only one still unaccounted for.”

She was part of an elite group of women, Air Force Service Pilots codenamed the WASPs which was formed at the height of World War II. They were America’s only all-female squadron who tested and transported planes and carried cargo and also ran simulated missions.

Gates adds, “On October 26, 1944, Tompkins took off from Los Angeles in a legendary P-51 Mustang. Soon after she flew into a fog bank and has been missing ever since.”

Now the renewed interest is strong, as it is the 75th anniversary of her disappearance. One of the nation’s leading aircraft archaeologists has retraced her flight path and found a new search zone in the mountains and a team of ocean explorers is using the latest scanning technology to pinpoint an entirely different search zone beneath the waves.

Who was “Tommy” Tompkins?

According to historians, Gertude “Tommy” Tompkins was born in 1912, the third of three daughters in a well-to-do family. She also had a speech impediment and wound up earning her undergraduate degree from the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture.

A wonderful fact, according to historians who interviewed her family, is that Gertrude Tompkins became a WASP and never stuttered again.

By chance, she met and fell in love with a young pilot who taught her to fly. He became her fiancé and he joined the Royal Air Force at the start of the war before losing his life in an air battle over England.

This was the catalyst to have her take action and in 1943, Gertrude became a WASP. Tompkins did end up getting married just a month prior to Henry Silver.

Make sure to tune in tonight to see if any new clues emerge to locate her plane, to solve the mystery of where she crashed and what became of her on Expedition Unknown.


Expedition Unknown airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Discovery.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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