The WAFS and How They Came to Be (Part 2)

Nancy Love Takes Command of the WAFS 

By Sarah Byrn Rickman, WASP Author and Historian

Part 2 (Continued from last week) Summer 1942, Colonel Tunner hires Nancy Love to recruit women ferry pilots, write their training syllabus and establish requirements to qualify for this new squadron.

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From left: WAFS Evelyn Sharp, Nancy Love, Barbara Towne, BJ Erickson. – Courtesy WASP Archives, Texas Woman’s University

Colonel Tunner wanted the women pilots to ferry the 175-horsepower Primary trainers (PT-19s) built at Fairchild Aircraft in nearby Hagerstown, Maryland. He appointed Colonel Robert Baker commandant of New Castle AAB, home of the 2ndFerrying Group, Wilmington, Delaware, and placed the new women pilot recruits under Baker’s command. Tunner worked closely with Baker on the logistics of bringing the women to New Castle. The base was under construction, but Baker found living quarters for the women and offered them privileges in the new officers’ mess.

Getting the base ready for the women took time. Finally, they received an OK to move forward. This came from General Arnold through his staff. On September 5, 1942, Nancy Love and Colonel Baker sent recruiting telegrams to 83 American women – ages 21 to 35. These were the women Love thought had the qualifications to qualify for the squadron.

On September 10, 1942, Secretary of War Henry Stimson announced Mrs. Love’s appointment. She would lead a group of civilian women pilots who would ferry (move/deliver) trainer aircraft for the Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command, U.S. Army Air Forces. Their name: Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron or WAFS. Stimson then introduced Mrs. Love and General Harold L. George, head of the Air Transport Command, to the public and press.

Betty Gillies First WAFS Pilot Accepted

Between September 7, 1942, and January 23, 1943, 27 more women qualified as WAFS. Women’s future in military aviation hung on how these 28 women performed professionally and conducted themselves socially and morally. Veteran flyer Betty Gillies was the first woman to apply and be accepted.

Betty Gillies, WAFS Pilot – Courtesy: International Women’s Air & Space Museum (IWASM) Cleveland Ohio

That is how the WAFS began and how they became the AAF’s first squadron of 28 women pilots.

While Nancy Love built her squadron in Wilmington, fall of 1942, another well-known woman pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, persuaded General Arnold to let her build a larger cadre of women pilots. These women learned to fly “the Army way” using the same training program currently employed to teach male cadets. Upon graduation, the women were to be sent to ferry aircraft for Nancy Love and the Ferrying Division.

Women’s Flying Program Begins to Grow

On November 3, 1942, Cochran and Gen. Barton K. Yount—head of the Army Air Forces (AAF) Flying Training Command in Fort Worth, Texas—selected Aviation Enterprises at Howard Hughes Field, Houston Municipal Airport, to be the home of the newly established Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD).

The first class of 29 women entered training November 16, 1942. They averaged 315 flying hours and several were qualified instructors. They were the most experienced flyers to enter the WFTD training facility. Only the original WAFS had more experience. Twenty-three graduated April 24, 1943, and headed for their assignments in the Ferrying Division.

The second class reported December 13, the third class January 16, 1943, and from there on a new class reported monthly, through June 1944 after which no new classes were begun. Women from the first six classes were sent to the Ferrying Division. After that, circumstances changed the distribution of the women graduates. The women now were sent to take on a variety of other flying jobs.

In June 1943, Cochran was named Director of Women Pilots. In August 1943, ALL the women pilots became known as WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots. Jackie Cochran, now led the WASP as a whole. General Tunner named Nancy Love “Executive for WASP of the Ferrying Division”. She continued to answer to Tunner and direct the duties of the women ferrying aircraft for the Ferrying Division, ATC.

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Thank you for reading my blog and my books! You can find all my books about the WAFS and WASP on Amazon, including my Young Adult-focused biographies of Nancy Love and Betty Gillies.

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