The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of World War II
Who were The Originals?
- Experienced women pilots - the first to fly for the U.S. military
- 28 women who dared to challenge 1940s barriers of gender, politics and bureaucracy
- Farm girls, socialites, daughters of working families, college graduates; from 15 different states; married and single; three with young children
- Young women - ages 21 to 35
- Three of them died serving their country
- World War II heroines with "the Right Stuff"
Based on personal interviews with the nine who were still alive as of 2000, on papers and diaries, and on interviews and correspondence with descendants and others who knew them. This book tells the story of the WAFS, who they were, how they are different from the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), and how they ultimately became part of the WASPs. A must reference book for libraries in aviation communities, but it reads like a novel.
The Originals is available for purchase directly from the author.
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Read an Excerpt
An excerpt from The Originals: The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of World War II, Chapter Nine:
On October 22, 1942, six WAFS were assigned to deliver six L4-B’s, or Cubs, from the Piper factory in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, to Mitchel Field on Long Island. Nancy Love appointed Betty Gillies flight leader. With her would be Fort, Rhonie, Clark, Scharr and James.
Their new gray-green wool uniforms — fitted by a tailor in Wilmington — had arrived, just in time for them to wear on the trip.
In 1942, the world was not used to seeing women in slacks. In fact, women in slacks were most often refused entrance into restaurants — something the WAFS contended with early on. The only answer to a snobbish maitre d’ was for a WAFS attired in trousers to accept the snub, be turned away, and hope for a more liberal policy elsewhere. The WAFS were not out trying to prove they could wear pants. They only wanted to prove they could fly.
On this, their first official outing, they wore the slacks under their flight coveralls and packed their skirts, their proper brown medium heeled shoes, and brown leather handbags with shoulder straps in their B-4 bags.
The six ferry pilots, anxious to shake the down from their wings and fly for real, boarded a Boeing twin-engine transport, piloted by none other than Col. Baker, for the short flight to Lockhaven. “Black Bob,” as they called him because of his black mustache, had taken pity on them and decided to send them off for their first trip by air — far preferable to spending four hours in a Pullman car and rising at five in the morning to get off the train in Lockhaven.
Even though the Piper factory employed numerous women, the arrival of women ferry pilots was a big deal. According to Teresa, “necks stretched and eyes popped. They couldn’t have stared any more had we been freaks from the circus side show.”
The six inspected their ships. They climbed in and prepared to take off. A twenty-five-mile-an-hour wind was blowing from the west, promising them a hefty tail wind all the way to Long Island.
“Those little four-cylinder go-carts actually leaped into the air,” Teresa remembers. “Clark had never flown such a light ship and we laughed when she said later, ‘Jeepers, I just couldn’t keep the thing on the ground.’
“We RONed in a hotel in Allentown, Pennsylvania — two to a room. We had been thoroughly trained and familiarized with how to fill out the necessary RON (Remain Over Night) forms, but that’s like making an “A” in geometry at school and trying to apply the knowledge when you need to build a fence later in life.
“Then we got a glimpse of ourselves in a full length mirror for the first time. BOQ 14 had no such luxury. We were horrified. The pants bagged in the seat and the legs were big enough for two. The tailor, used to measuring male legs and rumps, had mis-configured the trousers meant for a female form!”
As per Betty’s orders, they were up at sunrise the next morning.
Nancy had already warned them not to fly in formation like the men. Her instructions were, “Stay at least five hundred feet away from each other and anything else as well — and that includes clouds — and high enough over towns that you can deadstick outside them in case of emergency.”
Deadstick means no power. If the engine quits, the pilot needs to be high enough to, hopefully, spot an open space in which to land the little ship and then establish a glide path to get her there.
The night before when Betty talked to her husband, Bud, he had warned her that bombing practice was planned the following day in the area where they would be flying. All flying was ordered grounded during the bombing. So Betty wired Mitchel Field operations to let them know the WAFS were coming in with deliveries that morning and to call off the guns until they could get the planes safely on the ground.
“They were expecting us at the airport and every man who could leave his post was outside to watch us land. I can just imagine the remarks that flew right and left,” said Teresa. “‘Those dames! Why don’t they get smart and let the men run this Army.’ ‘Steady, men, we’ll probably see some high bouncing and modernized ground loops!’ ‘Line up, fellas, and protect the buildings.’
“Well, six little Cubs came in and made six perfect landings. We had made the trip in sixty-five minutes. Betty was pleased!”
Flight leader Gillies then signed over the planes to a thunder-faced officer, who told her — in no uncertain terms — that he needed them two months ago, not now.
“That’s not my problem,” she said, sweetly. “I’m merely following orders. You may speak to my commanding officer, Col. Robert Baker at New Castle Army Air Base, or call Col. Tunner himself at Ferrying Division headquarters.” She gave the man a big smile.
Considering the man’s rudeness, and knowing Betty, the others knew that her smile was delivered around clenched teeth. About then the phone rang. It was the telegram Betty had sent asking them to call off the bombing until the Cubs were safely in. Only it was a couple of hours late being delivered.
“Betty paled when she heard the news,” Teresa remembers. “But the Cubs were safely in, no thanks to either Western Union or Operations at Mitchel Field.