25 March 2016

WASP of the Ferry Command: Women Pilots, Uncommon Deeds

WASP of the Ferry Command is the story of the women ferry pilots who flew more than nine million miles in 72 different aircraft—115,000 pilot hours—for the Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command, during World War II. In the spring of 1942, Col. William H. Tunner lacked sufficient male pilots to move vital trainer aircraft from the factory to the training fields. Nancy Love found 28 experienced women pilots who could do the job. They, along with graduates of the Army’s flight training school for women—established by Jacqueline Cochran—performed this duty until fall 1943, when manufacture of trainers ceased.

In December 1943 the women ferry pilots went back to school to learn to fly high-performance WWII fighters, known as pursuits. By January 1944 they began delivering high performance P-51s, 47s, and 39s. Prior to D-Day and beyond, P-51s were crucial to the air war over Germany. They had the range to escort B-17s and B-24s from England to Berlin and back on bombing raids that ultimately brought down the German Reich. Getting those pursuits to the docks in New Jersey for shipment abroad became these women’s primary job. Ultimately, more than one hundred WASP pursuit pilots were engaged in this vital movement of aircraft.

The publishers have kindly provided the extract below, and an introduction from the Author:

The Great Transfer of WASP personnel, which took place in August 1944 after the program had been denied militarization and was destined to close, was done to allow women pilots, already trained to a certain level of proficiency, to better utilize their skills. A number of women serving in the Ferrying Division did not have the hours to qualify to fly the high-performance pursuit aircraft that were now the Ferrying Division’s priority. They were sitting idle. Not flying. Sending them back to the Training Command meant they could be sent to other bases where pilots were needed to fly smaller aircraft performing jobs other than ferrying. 

The Great Transfer 
The Great Transfer of August 1944 constituted the most significant movement of WASP personnel accomplished during the twenty-eight months of the women’s program. The women were never told WHY this was necessary. Rumor, of course, took the upper hand and hard feelings, resentment, and blame had a heyday. The problem was, the ferrying bases no longer had trainer airplanes for women to ferry. Ferrying pursuit aircraft had become the women pilots’ role in fighting the war.

The push was on to get those swift and badly needed fighter aircraft to the docks to be shipped abroad. The women ferry pilots had to be close to qualifying in heavier twin-engine aircraft, like the C-47, in order to be sent to pursuit school. Otherwise, the squadron leaders did not have sufficient small planes to ferry to keep them busy. Instead of letting those women languish around base — attending ground school, not flying, and becoming increasingly disgruntled — the choice was to send them where they could fly. In the Training Command, they could be assigned to do other jobs like administrative flights (flying non-flying personnel), serving as test pilots on repaired aircraft, and serving as utility pilots flying BTs, ATs, and small twin-engine aircraft. Some also flew copilot in
bombers and transports. 

Nancy Love gave the women every opportunity—in fact urged them—to volunteer for pursuit school, but she would not “send” a woman who did not want to go. Flying pursuit aircraft involved more risk than the slower, less complicated trainer aircraft. To handle pursuit took skill and an aptitude far and above that needed to fly a single-engine trainer or small twin-engine aircraft. The men who flew pursuit were looked on as the elite of the World War II flying corps. The women who flew pursuit proved to have the same rare qualities—“the right stuff.”

On July 3, 1944, Jackie Cochran and Nancy Love held a critical phone conversation. “Do you have all the girls you’ll ever want [for pursuit school], or do you have too many now?” Cochran asked.

“We can use more if they’re qualified to be sent to pursuit school,” Nancy answered.

On August 15, 1944, the Ferrying Division released 126 non-pursuit-qualified women pilots to the Training Command for reassignment. Only pursuit aircraft remained to be ferried.

“The transfer the summer of 1944 was very simple,” said Long Beach squadron leader B.J. London. “The girls who had not qualified in pursuits were sent to the Training Command. By sending them to other assignments, they got to fly airplanes they were qualified to fly, doing other jobs at other bases.”

By the end of September 1944, WASP pilots were ferrying three-fifths of all the pursuit aircraft delivered.

About the Author:
Sarah Byrn Rickman is the author of an award-winning WASP novel, Flight from Fear; The Originals: The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of World War II; and Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of World War II (UNT Press). She is the recipient of the Seventh Annual Combs Gates Award by the National Aviation Hall of Fame for her outstanding work on the women pilots of World War II.

Available from:
University of North Texas Press

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