Part V – Ferrying Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
With the arrival of the graduates of Classes 43-1 and 43-2, the four existing ferrying squadrons quadrupled in size. Adapting to new surroundings and circumstances can be a problem, but for the most part all the women adjusted—the old timer WAFS and the new-kids-on-the-block, the pioneering Guinea Pigs, to be followed a month later by the talent-rich women of 43-2.
The training school graduates settled into the ferrying routine, flying whatever trainer aircraft they were called upon to fly depending on where they were stationed. Whether this nomadic life they inherited is what the WASP ferry pilots had anticipated or not is a moot point. That is what they got. Many of their encounters enroute around the country were tame, maybe even boring, but some were not. Some were downright terrifying while they were happening, but were served up later to laughter that was a mixture of envy and disbelief among others.
In Chapter 19, ten of those training school graduates tell some of their adventures.
EXCERPT from Chapter Thirty of Flight to Destiny
Clare put the big B-17 bomber into a gradual descent.
She eyeballed several inlets, spotted the inlet they wanted, made the final turn at 1,000 feet, and started the run up the fjord. She and Annie glanced at each other. “Here we go.” Both knew it would be the landing of their lives.
In minutes they were flying in a magnificent canyon of mammoth icy crags. At a thousand feet, the water of the fjord felt like it was just a few feet beneath their wings. The water was a deep, vibrant azure and reflections of the northern springtime sun off of it nearly blinded them.
Just as they were warned, at points the icy walls closed in on them, but the wingtips passed with ease as Clare wove the Flying Fortress through the narrows. She caught herself holding her breath. “My Gawd, it is beautiful,” she said as the full impact of the arctic beauty unfolded before her eyes.
“I never dreamed I’d ever see anything this magnificent,” said Annie.
Finally, the shipwreck appeared in front of them. As advised, they looked right and there it was. The runway. Clare put the airplane into a 30-degree right turn to a heading of 070. The runway, a mat of pierced-steel planking, glinted and stretched away from them slightly uphill. It ended abruptly at the foot of a very large snow bank. The glacier.
Clare lined the bomber up with the centerline and allowed the plane to sink slowly, bleeding off airspeed, until they passed over the fence marking the end of the runway.
The B-17, a taildragger airplane with the little wheel in the back and the main gear in front, landed just like the little 50-horsepower Piper Cub she had learned on.
Just over the fence, Clare set the big airplane down in a perfect three-point landing and, deftly working the rudders, let it roll out straight and true down the runway. When it had slowed sufficiently, again working the rudders, she put the bomber into a gentle left turn that led to the taxiway. Moments later, she parked it where she was directed by the ground crew. Then she cut the switches and shut the airplane down.
“We did it, Annie.”
EXCERPT from Chapter One of Nancy Batson Crews
Boys, I’ve Brought You a Real Lemon
I picked up this brand-new, shiny P-38 in California and took off cross-country, made my last stop in Pittsburgh to refuel, and headed for Newark. About twenty minutes out of Pittsburgh, I noticed that the two engine coolant needles were oscillating.
I turned back to Pittsburgh, called the tower to get permission to land, and was cleared for a straight-in approach. I activated the landing gear handle and listened for the hum of the wheels descending into the down and locked position. But the lights on the instrument panel showed that the nosewheel was not down and locked.
The wobble pump was there for the pilot to use to do exactly what I had to do, pump the faulty nose gear down by hand. I started pumping. Nothing!
I tried climbing to eight thousand feet and diving the airplane, to see if centrifugal force would push it down. I did that several times. It didn’t work.
Under the pilot’s seat in the P-38 was a button connected to a CO2 cartridge. It was there to aid a combat pilot trying to land a shot-up airplane with both a damaged hydraulics system and a useless wobble pump. The cartridge could be exploded as a last resort to force the nosewheel down.
It was there to save some combat pilot’s life.
I figured my life was the one that needed saving.
Again, I climbed up to eight thousand and dove the P-38 one more time, horsed back on the controls, pulled up sharply, pumped the manual pump, reached under the seat, and fired the cartridge.
When the smoke cleared, there they were—three green lights!
I decided right then and there that I was going to make this the best landing of my life. And I did.
I greased it! I put that sick airplane in the proper landing attitude and touched down on the main wheels. Then I held that back pressure on the stick—back, back, back, all the way into my stomach—and kept that nosewheel up as long as possible. Then finally I let it touch down and did the roll out.
I looked over my left shoulder and here came a couple of fire engines, an ambulance, several Jeeps—a whole line of vehicles, all following me.
I taxied it on in, parked and cut the switch. Now here was a line of people waitin’ for me—photographers, Red Cross ladies who said, “we’ve been prayin’ for you, honey,” airport officials, and lots of other people. That’s when they took the picture that ran on the front page of the Pittsburgh paper the next morning.
EXCERPT from Chapter Two of Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of World War II
When Nancy Harkness and Robert MacLure Love met in April 1934, it wasn’t love at first sight.
Nancy, not happy in secretarial school, was in Boston job hunting. Old friend and fellow pilot Henry Wilder, who was squiring her around, suggested that they go see Bob Love at East Boston Airport. He might just know of something.
Nancy didn’t know Bob Love.
When Nancy and Henry arrived at the Inter City Aviation office, Bob was away picking up an airplane. The mechanic said he should be back momentarily.
Henry decided it was worthwhile waiting and, not in the least daunted by the fact that his friend was out, ushered Nancy into Bob’s office, deposited himself in Bob’s chair and put his feet up on Bob’s desk. Nancy boosted herself onto the desk, crossed her legs, and picked up her conversation with Henry.
After a time, the door banged open and a man in grease-stained flight coveralls strode in. In his left hand, his leather flight helmet and goggles dangled by their straps. His red hair was mashed flat with a spike sticking up here and there—the byproduct of wearing the leather helmet. His cheeks were wind-burned and his blue eyes looked out from telltale raccoon-like white circles, the result of his goggles worn when flying in an open cockpit airplane.
He took in the scene in one glance.
Perched on his desk in his office—obviously in deep conversation with his friend Henry Wilder—was a very attractive young woman.
She glanced up and smiled when he walked in, but she made no move to get off the desk.
Ingrained politeness kept him from saying out loud that he was not happy to find either of them there. He ordered the woman off his desk and his friend out of his chair.
She slid gracefully from the desk, shot him a withering look, and, mustering all her presence, walked from the room. She slammed the door on her way out, leaving Henry—who was scrambling to get out of the chair—behind to do the explaining. Eventually, Henry came out, looking sheepish, and asked her to come back in the office. Bob Love, disagreeable as he had sounded, really did want to meet her.
Nancy desperately wanted a job in aviation. She had come here to meet this Bob Love person. Why pass up the opportunity? Just because he was testy, didn’t mean she had to be. She nodded at the apologetic Henry and deigned to re-enter the ogre’s office.
EXCERPT from Chapter Twenty-Four of Flight from Fear
When it came, she knew instantly what it was — that small but distinct metallic rip.
Lacy looked down at the instrument panel. The first dial she checked was the cylinder head temperature. She didn’t have to look any further. The needle was rising. Dreading what she would see, she raised her head to look out. Sure enough, a jet of slick black oil was pulsing onto the front of her canopy.
“Oil line rupture,” — Lacy breathed into her microphone. Her throat was constricted and she could barely get the words out.
The smear of oil shut off her forward visibility. Then the big, four hundred fifty horsepower engine — deprived of its lubricant — seized up, coughed like a dying man, and quit. Lacy, an awful sinking feeling in her stomach, knew instantly she had only minutes to find a place to land. Remembering the instructions in the Flight Manual as well as Shorty’s and her other instructors’ warnings, she reached over and turned off the gas and the ignition and lowered the nose of the airplane.
“We’ve got to bail.” Cin’s voice, through the earphones, contained the same element of terror Lacy felt. Cin opened her canopy. A rush of cold air filled the airplane.
Lacy remembered Jacqueline Cochran’s words as if she had heard them just yesterday. “If you two had been more experienced pilots, you might have been able to land in a field.”
“No! I’m going to try to land it.” She’d be damned if she’d lose a second airplane the same way without a fight.
“You’re crazy!” Cin shouted.
“We could be killed jumping into those rocks.” — Lacy fought to keep reason in her voice.
“We crash, we die. I’ll take my chances,” was Cin’s response.
The silent, powerless BT-13 has begun its gliding descent. Lacy checked again to be sure she had established the optimum angle so that it would descend slowly, but not so slowly as to stall and kick over into a spin that would mean certain death for both of them. But, ultimately, it had nowhere to go but down.
She has two choices. Jump, while she is still high enough for her chute to open, or make a deadstick landing. Right now, looking frantically out the sides of the airplane, she could see no possible place to put it down.
“I’m bailing, Lacy. I’d advise you to follow me.”
Lacy felt the plane tilt slightly to the left, and looked back to see that Cin had one leg over the side.
Cin dropped her headphones on the seat and disappeared over the side.
“Wait!” Lacy’s frantic cry echoed in the emptiness of the rarefied air. Out of the corner of her eye, moments later, she saw Cin’s chute open and hold her, suspended, as she floated downward toward some of the sharpest rock spires Lacy had ever seen.
EXCERPT from Chapter One of The Originals
“I’m going to quit school and become a pilot, Daddy,” sixteen-year-old Nancy Harkness told her father when they sat down to dinner one late August evening in 1930.
That day, while Nancy was out riding her horse Daisy, she saw a sleek airplane landing and taking off from a field outside of town. She watched, fascinated. The aircraft seemed to dance in the sun, catching and reflecting golden rays on its silver wings and turning the world into a shimmering metallic fairyland. Never had she seen anything quite so graceful, so lovely, so exciting.
It didn’t take her long to wangle a ride in that marvelous winged machine. The barnstormer pilot was looking for business at five dollars a crack and the prospect of taking up a pretty young girl was far more pleasant than flying the town’s business and political leaders around. With that first flight, Nancy was hooked. And when Nancy made up her mind, she acted. The mature, focused woman she would become was beginning to emerge even then.