Women take to the air during World War II

By SAMMY WAY
Posted 4/29/18

Reflections will utilize an article written in 1943 concerning the early WASP squadrons and discuss their achievements and contributions to the World War II effort. This article was written by NEA Staff Correspondent Ann Stevick and will be …

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Women take to the air during World War II

With parachutes over their shoulders, a group of WASP women leaves the operations hangar at Camp Davis, North Carolina, in 1943 headed for their planes for flights that relieve Army Air Forces men pilots for combat duty.
With parachutes over their shoulders, a group of WASP women leaves the operations hangar at Camp Davis, North Carolina, in 1943 headed for their planes for flights that relieve Army Air Forces men pilots for combat duty.
SUMTER ITEM FILE PHOTO
Posted

Reflections will utilize an article written in 1943 concerning the early WASP squadrons and discuss their achievements and contributions to the World War II effort. This article was written by NEA Staff Correspondent Ann Stevick and will be reprinted in its entirety with a modicum of editing because of its length.

"The WASP, Women's Airforce Service Pilots, are step-children in hand-me-down clothes so far. They replace men of the First Tactical Air Force for combat by tow-target and tracking mission flying, two of the most difficult and tedious flying jobs. Both require the tedious labor of flying back and forth hour after hour on a set course, making precise turns. WASPs are issued Air Force uniforms, but they are Civil Service employees. When they appear on strange air fields in uniform, they are apt to have encounters with baffled MPs who feel as if they are impersonating something but do not know what. The girls were all chosen for ability to stick it out, however, and they hope to be in the Air Force in a few months.

"A Hollywood scout looking for a WASP type would have had a tough time picking one from the squadron of 30 at attention in front of the hangars. There are cover girl types, Campfire Girl types and some who look like good cooks. Some wear Air Force olive green and some 'pink' trousers and shirts."

SET UP TARGETS

"An impressive sample of the type of work the girls came to do was given to the press on the sandy beach at Sear's Landing, six miles from camp. First, a simulated plane target was shot down in a few seconds and fell with a streak of smoke and a burst of flame. Then a big B-34 with a WASP co-pilot came over towing a "flag" target of wire screen and cloth. After a good deal of chatter from field phones to the control tower and to the pilot, the plane was brought in closer because of poor visibility.

"Instruments that measure altitude, direction and distance sent their messages to a remarkable computer, resembling a washing machine full of mathematics. It picked up the information, smoothed it out or synchronized it and sent on a formula to the four anti-aircraft batteries. Crews moved like an Indian club act getting the shells in. The four long noses of the guns fixed on the computed point fired and mowed this target down in a little more time than the first one.

"The first batch of 25 WASPs moved in on 50,000 incredulous men at Camp Davis on July 10. Later 22 more WASPs arrived to bolster the first group, and three weeks earlier three more came. By January, Miss Cochran expects 600 flyers and 500 trainees to be in action.

"They are all graduates of a six-month training course at Sweetwater, Texas. They recruited from thousands of applicants, about 50 percent of whom get through the recruiting scrutiny. There does not seem to be any pigeon-hole for WASP recruits either. There are six married women. There are teachers, bookkeepers, a magazine writer, a parachute rigger, a claim agent for a wholesale dry goods store. At least 13 of the girls have come home to roost from civilian pilot training courses in colleges.

"Miss Cochran is emphatic that there are more women flyers available than can probably ever be used and regrets the possibility of more girls scrimping to take flying with the hope of getting in. There are a lot of recruiting requirements on health, weight and height, but more important is the record of the applicant for sticking to things she has tried.

"The Camp Davis six-week training course includes physical exercise, work in the link trainer, identification of aircraft, navigation, meteorology, medical training, seamanship and woodsmanship, airplane and engine maintenance, among a lot of other things. They learn to fill out reports. They do unceasing study of dot-dash codes, both by key and blinker.

"The day of the WASP begins with rising in time for 6:45 calisthenics. Between 7:15 and 7:30 they must change from shorts or slacks to their regular clothes, eat their breakfasts and get to the air field in time to check up on missions for the day. They say it can be done when you get used to it, and the bed made, too, with square corners. But no toying with curls or eye shadow."

"If the WASP does not get a coveted mission on the board in the operations room when she reports for the day, she is likely to lurk around anyway, hoping to get an extra chore that pops up. If there is a first flight of a new type ship or a cross-country flight, the pilots will gather in their own briefing room for conference with the flight leader. The briefing room is marked "Wasp's Nest, Drones Keep Out, or Suffer the Wrath of the Queen.

"If the girls go into the Army, it will mean a raise in pay in most cases. Their civil salary is $150 a month in training and $250 a month at camp. Out of this the girls pay about $50 board and room and buy their own uniforms. Trousers cost $12.50 and shirts $8 to $12. Most of the girls find it necessary to have about four uniforms."