The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of World W
Sarah Byrn Rickman
Disc Us Books Inc
Trade Paperback/413 pages
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". . . brave volunteers answer the call . . ."
". . . loved their country and they loved to fly."
". . . a fitting memorial . . . daring to break the boundaries of gender bias for all time."
1942: The United States is desperately short of pilots to ferry aircraft from the factories to where they are needed for the war effort. Most civilian male pilots are called to serve on active duty. The big brass in Washington grows concerned. Where can they possibly find enough already qualified individuals to fill this urgent need? Enter twenty-eight women pilots, with commercial licenses, a 200-horsepower engine rating and recent cross-country experience. These brave volunteers answer the call to become America''s first all-female flying squadron, the Women''s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron,WAFS for short.
The "Originals" (as the first group of WAFS are known) intuited early on that their performance was being carefully watched by the all-male military establishment. They knew their accomplishments in the air could possibly shape women''s participation in the armed forces for years to come. Realizing this awesome responsibility, the WAFS at all times conducted themselves in a professional manner, both on and off base.
The Army made no bones about their contempt for the fairer sex. They stated plainly they didn''t want to "baby sit" female minors and they didn''t want to deal with "menopause" which could cause a woman over the age of forty not to "think rationally or function properly." Consequently, WAFS had to be between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five years, have 500 hours of cockpit experience, and a high school diploma. Male civilian pilots could be anywhere from nineteen to forty-five, have a mere 200 hours in the air and only three years of secondary education. Male civilian pilots could be trained and commissioned into the Air Forces in ninety days. Women pilots could not. It would take Congress to iron out some of these double standards.
Nancy Harkness Love was named director of the WAF squadron, which was organized under the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command. Their first home was a muddy hole in the ground called New Castle Army Air Base near Wilmington, Delaware. The Army wasn''t quite ready for their new recruits and the women found themselves housed in a drafty barracks without shades on the windows or doors on the shower stalls. But one by one they arrived–some coming from very humble backgrounds, some from affluent lifestyles. In spite of their differences, they shared two important things in common–they loved their country and they loved to fly. Together they proudly transported airplanes across country through sometime harrowing weather conditions, tight deadlines and the occasional deadly crash.
Journalist Sarah Byrn Rickman has done an excellent job documenting the achievements and triumphs of these courageous women pilots. The Originals is a fitting memorial to the individuals who served their country selflessly, bravely daring to break the boundaries of gender bias for all time.
Reviewer: Cindy Appel