This week's Wednesday Wonders features
WASP of the Ferry Command
by Sarah Byrn Rickman
About WASP of the Ferry Command:
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.
These 303 women came from the first squadron — formed in the fall 1942 by Nancy Love and known as the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron or “the Originals” — and from the first six classes who trained at the Army flight school for women conceived of by 1930s racing pilot Jacqueline Cochran.
In the beginning they flew 175-horsepower single-engine primary trainer aircraft, then moved up to basic (450 hp) and advanced (600 hp) trainers. They went on to master ever-larger twin-engine aircraft and 130 of them eventually flew the single-engine, high-powered pursuit aircraft (fighters) — the dream of every WWII pilot male or female. These aircraft had one seat. The first flight was a solo.
By January 1944, WASP were delivering P-51s, P-47s, P-39s and P-63s to destinations around the United States. Leading up to and after D-Day, P-51s became crucial to the air war over Germany. They, alone, had the range to escort the four-engine bombers from England to Berlin and back on bombing raids — and that is ultimately what brought down the German Reich. Getting those pursuits from the factories to the docks in New Jersey for shipment abroad became the primary job of the WASP of the Ferry Command.
The women ferry pilots tell their stories in their own words — thanks to letters and diaries left to the WASP Archive at Texas Woman’s University and through oral histories done by TWU in more recent years.
Come fly with these women in the skies above wartime America.
“I drew the P-51, the love of my life,” Jean Landis, WASP Class 43-4, said of her first flight — a solo — in Pursuit School. “How lucky can you get!
“In the cockpit, waiting to take off, I applied and held the brakes, revved up RPMs, watching the oil pressure and oil temperature gauges as I did. Then, I got the word ‘ready for takeoff.’
“Full throttle, off with the brakes. I never felt such pressure against my back. The power and the noise were unbelievable. Thrilling! Exciting! I was off. I upped the flaps, upped the gear, in seconds I was at 1000 feet, then 2000 feet, where I was told to practice simulated landings. That’s where you get into a nice glide path, let down the gear, lower the flaps, reduce your air speed to about a 110—like you’re coming in over the fence, almost ready to touch down. Then give it the gas, up the gear and the flaps, get proper altitude, and do it all over again, and again, and again.
“All was well until the red warning light came on indicating my landing gear was not down and locked. Immediately, I went through the emergency procedures. I climbed then dived down, pulled back on the stick to pull quickly out of the dive in hopes of locking the gear.
“Nothing worked. So I called in that I had a problem.
“‘Come on in, let us see,’ they said.
“I was so timid the first time, I didn’t go low enough. They couldn’t see if my gear was down or not. So I dove on the tower a second time. This time, I came in so low I could almost see the whites of their eyes. ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘the gear is down, but we can’t tell if it’s locked.’
“I had to go back up and fly around while they cleared the field for me to make an emergency landing. My instructions were, ‘Come in softly,’—whatever that means—‘gently touch the wheels to the runway. If they hold, taxi on in. If they don’t, give her the gun, climb, get to altitude and circle until you get further instructions.’
“As I headed for the runway, here came the hash wagon and the fire trucks. Remember, this is my first landing in the P-51. I came in as gently and softly as I could. Touched the wheels to the runway. They held. I taxied in.
“My instructor started in on me. His first words were, ‘Well, what did you do wrong?’
“I think I did everything properly, Sir!
“I got out and he got in and took off. The last thing I saw, he was all over the sky, diving and sharply pulling up, trying to get the wheels down and locked and the light to go off. I wanted to shout, ‘I told you so.’”
About the Author:
Sarah Byrn Rickman is the author of seven books about the WASP — the women who flew for the U.S. Army in WWII. Two new nonfiction books are slated for publication this year (2016). WASP of the Ferry Command was released in March by the University of North Texas Press. Finding Dorothy Scott — Sarah’s third WASP biography — will be released this summer by Texas Tech University Press.
Finding Dorothy Scott won the Vinnie Ream Award in Letters from the National League of American Pen Women, of Washington DC — presented for the first time this year. In 2009, the National Aviation Hall of Fame presented Sarah with the Combs Gates Award for her outstanding volume of work on the women pilots of World War II and the promise of what became WASP of the Ferry Command.
Her other nonfiction books are: The Originals (2001), the story of the first WASP squadron of 28 women; Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of WWII (2008), the biography of the Originals’ founder and leader; and Nancy Batson Crews: Alabama’s First Lady of Flight (2009), Sarah’s personal mentor who urged her to write The Originals.
Both of her WASP novels are double winners. Flight From Fear (published 2002) was named a Women Writing the West WILLA Finalist in 2003 and Flight to Destiny (published 2014) won the Eudora Welty Memorial Award for 2016 from the National League of American Pen Women. Those two manuscripts won back-to-back First Places in Historical Fiction at the Pikes Peak Writers Conferences of 1999 and 2000, respectively
Sarah currently serves as the editor of the official WASP newsletter, published by Texas Woman’s University and the WASP Archives. She is a former reporter/ columnist for The Detroit News and editor of the twice-weekly Centerville-Bellbrook Times in Ohio. She has worked as an independent contractor doing writing and editing for non-profits and she’s been writing books since 1986 and has two unpublished novels in the drawer. She earned her B.A. in English from Vanderbilt University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University McGregor (1996). She earned her Sport Pilot certificate in 2011 in order to bring more first hand knowledge and credibility to her aviation writing.
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