THE WASP

Quietly and efficiently, the Women's Airforce Service Pilots are setting an enviable record as civilian employees of the Army Air Forces.

A group of WASPs based at Long Beach, California. Long Beach was near most of the major aircraft factories, so these women ferried everything from P-51 Mustang fighters to C-47 transports. Back row, from left: Nadine Ramsey (Class 43-W-5), Betty Tackaberry (Class 43-W-1), Katherine Loft (Class 43-W-4), Evelyn Trammell (Class 43-W-6), Thelma Farris (Class 43-W-7), Deborah Truax (Class 43-W-6), Virginia Hill (Class 43-W-4), Carol Fillmore (Class 43-W-2), Barbara Jane (Erickson) London (WAFs). Front row, from left: Rena Wilkes (Class 43-W-4), Lauretta Beatty (Class 43-W-4), Iris Cummings (Class 43-W-2), Lewise Coleman (Class 43-W-2), Dorothy Webb (Class 43-W-6), Jean Landis (Class 43-W-4), Dorothy Kocher (Class 43-W-4), Ruth Thompson (Class 43-W-2), Helen Richards (WAFs). [Jeanne Robertson]

. . . Isabel Fenton, of West Springfield, Mass., was flying a Vega Ventura about 6,000 feet over the dunes off Camp Davis, N.C., the other day hauling an airplane target for a battery to shoot at. In 20 rounds the 90's got the target and the target fell blazing into the sea. There were cries of "Ah!" and "Oh!" and "Good shooting!" from the gallery of press and radio representatives and officers. But as the Ventura wiggled its wings and swung off for its base a grizzled colonel mumbled into his mustache.

"Hell, they missed the girl!"

There was some nervousness among the antiaircraft crews training at Davis when they learned that their targets were towed by girl pilots. . . .But the WASPs are going steadily ahead and the gunners are learning to shoot. And the records show they are both doing it well.


: WASP trainee Amie Thyng climbs into the cockpit of her trainer at Avenger Field. [USAF neg. No. K-36941]

The girls are flying relatively hot ships-- such as the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber and the Vega Ventura. They are logging approximately 84 hours a month each. During the past three months the 50 girls at the post have piled up a total of about 12,600 hours in target and tracking work, plus such time as they have spent on transition training in ships new to them and in training and check flights on blind and instrument flying. . . .

WASP's are civil servants at present and are paid $150 a month while in training and $250 a month upon graduation. They receive the regular $6 a day when away from their bases and when at the base live as junior officers, paying for their own rooms and mess. . . .

They talk intelligently of their jobs. There is plenty of kidding and horseplay, too. And all of them are looking forward to further participation in the other projects, now under restriction, but which will be announced as their usefulness to the Army Air Forces is increasingly proven.

by John Stuart for Flying Magazine, January, 1944

 

General Henry "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the last WASP Graduate Class, Dec 7, 1944

I am glad to be here today for a talk with you girls who have been making aviation history. You and all WASP have been pioneers in a new field of war-time service, and I sincerely appreciate the splendid job you have done for the AAF. . . .

The possibility of using women to pilot military aircraft was first considered in the summer of 1941. We anticipated then that global war would require all of our qualified men and many of our women. . . .England and Russia had been forced to use women to fly trainers and combat-type aircraft. Russian women were being used in combat.

Four Women Air Force Service Pilots [WASPs] walking into history wearing their Santiago blues. [Special Collections, Texas Woman's University]

In that emergency I called in Jacqueline Cochran, who had herself flown almost everything with wings and several times had won air races from men who now are general officers of the Air Forces. I asked her to draw a plan for the training and the use of American women pilots. She presented such a plan in late 1941 and it formed the basis for the Air Force's use of the WASP.

Frankly, I didn't know in 1941 whether a slip of a young girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in the heavy weather they would naturally encounter in operational flying. Those of us who had been flying 20 to 30 years knew that flying an airplane was something you did not learn overnight.

But, Miss Cochran said that carefully selected young women could be trained to fly our combat-type planes....

Lunch in the WASP trainees' mess hall. Left side of table, from left: WASP Madelyn (Sullivan) O'Donnell, General Hap Arnold, Jackie Cochran, and Lieutenant General Barton K. Yount. WASP Susan Clarke peers into the camera from the right side of the table. [Special Collections, Texas Woman's University]

Certainly we haven't been able to build a plane that you can't handle. From AT-6's to B-29's, you have flown them around like veterans. One of the WASP has even test-flown our new jet plane. . . .

The WASP have completed their mission. Their job as been successful. But as it usual in war, the cost has been heavy. Thirty-eight WASP have died while helping their country move toward the moment of final victory. The Air Forces will long remember their service and their final sacrifice.

So, on this last graduation day, I salute you and all WASP. We of the AAF are proud of you; we will never forget our debt to you. " - Hap Arnold


The line for the ladies room at Howard Hughes Field in Houston, Texas, March 1943. The facilities at Houston were completely unprepared for the everyday presence of dozens of young women. [Jeanne Robertson]

Once in the military, women had other obstacles to overcome: They couldn't give orders to men, their ranks were different, and their pay was less. Of the military services, only the Army allowed them to serve overseas, and laws restricted the ranks of the directors and officers. Still, women volunteered. Still, they served.

Ann Carl, a WASP pilot during World War Two, ferried gunnery-training targets at Camp Davis, North Carolina, and later tested fighters and bombers at Wright Field, Ohio. From a recent interview with USA Today, here are her words:

"We felt we were lucky to be doing what we were doing. We would have done the whole thing free of charge. We would have paid to do it!" she said.

Some facts:

  • There were 27 women pilots accepted by Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS)
  • There were 25,000 women applying to Army Airforce (AAF) flight training
  • There were 1,879 women accepted to AAF flight training
  • There were 1,074 women pilots graduated from AAF flying training detachment school
  • There were 916 women pilots assigned to duty stations at time of deactivation
  • There were 38 WASP killed during AAF program

Wishful thinking by the lonely girls of Cochrane's Convent, so called because Jackie Cochran imposed a rule barring social contact with Army Air Forces staff or civilian instructors. ["Dottie" Davis]

 

Types of Flying Duties

  • Ferrying
  • Towing targets for anti-aircraft
  • Engineering test
  • Towing targets for aerial gunnery
  • Demonstration
  • Tracking and searchlight missions
  • Check pilot
  • Simulated strafing and gassing
  • Administrative
  • Smoke laying and chemical missions
  • Flight instructor (Basic and Instrument)

Jeanne (Bennett) Robertson, Class 43-W-4, in front of AT-6. [Jeanne Robertson]



Shirley Slade on the cover of Life magazine [Life Magazine, July 19, 1943]

Flight Operation Statistics

  • 60,000,000 Miles of Operations Flights
  • 77 Types of Aircraft Ferried
  • 12,000 Ferrying Operations
  • 9,224,000 Miles Flown in Ferrying Operations