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Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs)

Between November 1942 and December 1944, 1,074 women ferried over 50% of the combat aircraft within the United States. Thirty-eight of these women died in their service, 11 in training and 27 during missions.

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On September 10, 1942, Nancy Harkness Love was appointed as the director of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). She initially sent telegrams out to 83 of America’s best women pilots recruiting them as civilian pilots to serve in the Ferry Command. The women had to be between 21 and 35 years of age, logged at least 500 hours in the air, hold a commercial license, a 200-horsepower engine rating, and have recent cross-country flying experience. Twenty-eight women met these rigorous standards and answered the call to serve their country during wartime in the Air Transport Command. Stationed at New Castle Army Air Base, “The Originals” as they would come to call themselves, began ferrying light aircraft and primary trainers such as Stearmans and PT-19 Fairchilds. They quickly went on to ferry larger aircraft including pursuit planes like the P-38 and P-51.

On September 14th, 1942, General Hap Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, approved the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) that would recruit and train 500 licensed pilots to ferry planes. The 23-week training program, placed under the direction of record-breaking aviator Jackie Cochran, was based at Howard Hughes Airport in Houston, Texas. Cochran’s goal was to prove that any healthy, stable young American woman could learn to fly just as well as her male counterparts. The first batch of applications was sent to 150 women, 130 of whom responded immediately. Each was personally interviewed by Cochran. Thirty were selected for the first class and notified by telegram to report to Houston at their own expense. Training began on November 16, 1942, and the mission of the WFTD was to perform whatever flight duties the Army Air Corps required within the United States.

While Cochran's program was training women to fly the military way, Love's squadron was already flying ferrying missions. Their first job took place in November, with the WAFS taking Piper Cubs from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, to Mitchel Field, New York. Soon they were ferrying every model of military plane from the factories where they were made to bases across the country. Each woman was issued a canvas bag which, when packed with winter flying suits and navigational equipment, often weighed 90 pounds. They would make their own way to the factory with this heavy load. Once they arrived on base, having completed a ferrying mission, they had to scout for a place to sleep. Sometimes they were lucky enough to find nurses barracks, but they usually had to look for hotels in town.

On August 5, 1943, Cochran and Love's programs merged to form the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Cochran became director of the combined program, while Love continued to head the ferrying operations. The WASP pilot training program graduated 1,074 graduates, who, combined with Nancy Love's "Originals," ferried over 50% of the combat aircraft within the United States during the war years. WASPs flew at 126 bases across the US, where they also towed targets for gunnery training and served as instrument instructors for the Eastern Flying Training Command. Thirty-eight of these women died in their service, 11 in training and 27 during missions. The last WASP training class graduated at Sweetwater, Texas, on December 7, 1944, and the WASP program itself ended on 20 December 20.

SOURCES
Air Force Historical Studies Office www.afhso.af.mil
American Experiences: Fly Girls www.pbs.org
Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girl www.npr.org
National WASP World War II Museum waspmuseum.org/
Texas Woman's University www.twu.edu
Wings Across America www.wingsacrossamerica.us
Women in the U.S. Army www.army.mil

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> General History >> World War II, 1939-1945

This page was last updated on 11/09/2017.