In September 1942, after several times rejecting proposals to use qualified women pilots for flying duties, Army Air Forces Commanding General Henry H. Arnold agreed to form two groups designed to help meet the need for pilots to ferry aircraft. The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), led by Nancy Harkness Love, enlisted already-qualified women pilots to transport training aircraft from factories to training bases. Meanwhile, the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), led by Jackie Cochran, oversaw an intensive training program to increase the number of women who could fly for the Ferrying Division. On 5 July 1943, Arnold put Cochran in charge of all women pilots, with Nancy Love as the Executive for women pilots in the Ferrying Command. A month later, on 5 August 1943, the WAFS and WFTD merged into a single unit for all women pilots, who were rapidly extending their qualifications to every type of aircraft in service. The new unified group called itself the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), with its pilots known as WASP.
In its first few weeks, the WFTD required women pilots to have a private pilot license and 200 hours of flight time, and would then train them to fly “the Army way.” But it soon began accepting women without any prior flying experience. The flight school at Avenger Field, in Sweetwater, Texas, ran most flight training for women pilots, who at first trained only on lighter or smaller planes. Eventually, however, women proved that they could fly almost every type of aircraft in the US military arsenal at the time, including the heaviest bombers and fastest fighters. Their pilot training therefore became the same as their male counterparts. The only aspect women’s training did not cover remained combat acrobatics, since the Army Air Corps had from the start intended to use women pilots to free up male pilots for combat roles.
The WASP pilot training program graduated 1,074 graduates, who, combined with Nancy Love’s “Originals,” ferried over 50% of the combat aircraft within the United States during the war years. WASPs flew at 126 bases across the US, where they also towed targets for gunnery training and served as instrument instructors for the Eastern Flying Training Command. Thirty-eight of these women died in their service, 11 in training and 27 during missions.
Dr. Andrew T. Wackerfuss, Historian, AFHSO.