On April 24, 1943, the first class of WFTD (Women’s Flying Training Detachment), Class 43-W-1, graduated from Army Air Forces flight training at Ellington Field, Houston.
The class entered with 38 trainees and 24 graduated. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.
Initially, the training in Houston, TX, lasted 23 weeks and included 115 hours of flying time. However, not long after, the program moved to Sweetwater, TX and the training increased to 210 hours flying time and became 30 weeks long. To be accepted, trainees were required to be between 21 and 35 years of age and had to have at least 200 hours flying time before entering. This later dropped to 18 years of age minimum and at least 35 hrs. flying experience. The training consisted of mostly cross-country flying with no gunnery. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.
Major Gen. Gerald C. Brandt, Commanding General of the Gulf Coast Training Center addressed the graduates: “I’m not going to make a formal speech. I prepared one, but instead of reading it to you, I’m just going to say a few things I’ve been thinking as I’ve been watching you. I guess you’ve done it again. You’ve shown us that one of the things we thought was a male prerogative can be done just as well by women. You girls who have just completed training have shown that you can take the training men can take, and can achieve the same degree of flying efficiency. WE ARE PROUD OF YOU!”
Colonel Walter H. Reed, Commanding Officer of Ellington AAB, pinned on the shiny new wings (paid for by Jacqueline Cochran). He whispers to the first few graduates, “I’ve done this for hundreds of male cadets, but I’ve never pinned wings on a woman before. If I stick you, for heaven’s sake, don’t jump. My wife is in the front row, and I’d never live it down!” And so, the history of the first women trained to fly America’s military aircraft begins!
PHOTO: Members of class 43-W-1. Houston Municipal Airport, Houston, Texas, 1943. Front: Dorothy L. Young, Marion Mackey DeGregorio, Edna Collins Kingdon, Geri Lamphere Nyman, Eleanor Boysen Morgan, Leni Leoti Clark Deaton, Ann Johnson, Evelyn S. Greenblatt Howren, Lovelle Richards Benesh, Sidney Miller, Georgia Williams (trainee), and Mary Lou Colbert Neale. Back: Jane Straughan, Margaret McCormick, Ruth Hellman, Elizabeth McKinley Matray, Byrd Howell Granger, G.C. Brown Kindig, Magda Tacke, Catherine deBernard (43-W-2), Claire Callaghan, Marion Florsheim (trainee), Marjorie Kumler, Vega Johnson Sogg, Marjorie Gray, Marjorie Ketcham Deacon, Betty Tackaberry Blake.