Teresa James WAFS Pilot
Gear Up/Gear Down—a P-47 to Newark
Book Launch October 20, Presented by IWASM
the International Women’s Air & Space Museum
When it comes to flying, Teresa James was one of the best. She mastered 26½ tail spins followed by a series of loop-ti-loops in a vintage Travel Air OX-5 to become a 1930s barnstorming stunt pilot at age 21.
Teresa was number eight invited to join the 28 original WAFS—the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. These were the women pilots recruited by Nancy Harkness Love, early in World War II, to fly for the Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command.
The WAFS were America’s first squadron of women pilots. All of them were long on experience when they were hired, in 1942, to serve as civilians. Their initial job was to ferry (move) small Army trainer aircraft from the wartime factories to the flight training schools. But their biggest contribution was to come in 1944 when they were called on to ferry fighters—the high-powered pursuit aircraft that ultimately would win the war for the U.S. and its Allies.
Third Woman to Fly the P-47 Thunderbolt
Teresa James was the third woman to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt—America’s biggest, heaviest fighter aircraft in WWII.
“I was scared to death of flying it,” Teresa said. “The cockpit had only enough room for a single pilot—me—so my first flight was a solo! I’d heard the guys discussing the flight characteristics of this 14,500 pound, 2000 horsepower, flying arsenal! I’d learned on something that had about fifty.”
July 5, 1943—her date with destiny. Her first pursuit flight. It would be the first of many.
“Take It Up and Practice Stalls and Spins”
“There stood Captain Bing on the wing, waiting to give me a verbal checkout on pre-flight, cockpit, and emergency procedures. Then, satisfied that I had done my homework, he wished me luck and told me to take it up and practice stalls and spins.
“His parting shot was ‘After takeoff, you’ll be twenty miles out past New Castle before you get the gear up.’”
Teresa’s full description of her flight is found in Teresa James WAFS Pilot, pages 78-81.
“That’s when I found out the mystique around flying the big ‘Jug’ [its affectionate nickname] was just a lot of guy stories. The P-47 is a real pussycat, but with great claws and silky whiskers. What she’s saying is, ‘Pet me gently!’”
Next for Teresa Was the P-51 Mustang
Not long after, TJ became the fourth woman to fly the queen of the pursuits, the P-51 Mustang.
By fall 1944, there were nearly 100 women ferry pilots, now called WASP, qualified to fly those pursuits from the factories where they were built to the shipping docks on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The majority of the aircraft went to Newark, New Jersey, where they were loaded aboard WWII Liberty ships and sent to England to fly against Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Those small, swift, muscular aircraft provided—in 1944—the vital, and until then missing protection that was instrumental in the success of our bombing in air raids over Germany. That’s how that half of the war was won!
Still, given Teresa’s amazing life and flying career, her most lasting legacy may be this:
An Inspiration to Today’s Young Women
“Her story and her vitality still serve as an inspiration to today’s young women,” says Julia Lauria-Blum, one of TJ’s closest friends in her later years. Julia’s two daughters were young teens when they met Teresa.
In 2018, almost as if Julia was channeling me, I changed the focus of my writing. Two of my fellow writer friends, former teachers, told me point blank that the audience who most needs to read the stories of these incredible women pilots of World War II is today’s young women—the girls attending our Middle Schools, High Schools, and STEM classes.
“Teresa and the others are role models,” both said, echoing Julia. “These young women are our future. That’s who you need to write these WAFS and WASP stories for.”
In 2018, Filter Press published BJ Erickson WASP Pilot—the first of my Young Adult-focused WAFS/WASP biographies. Nancy Love WASP Pilot followed in 2019, also from Filter Press. Last year, Flight to Destiny Press published Betty Gillies WAFS Pilot.
This year, 2021, make way for Teresa James WAFS Pilot: Gear Up/Gear Down—a P-47 to Newark.
My heartfelt thanks to IWASM — the International Women’s Air & Space Museum, Cleveland, Ohio — for sponsoring this book launch. When IWASM Administrator Joan Hrubec and I visited Teresa in Lake Worth, Florida, in March 2000, we forged a bond between Teresa, the WAFS, and the museum. Thanks to IWASM Executive Director Sara Fisher for keeping that connection alive.