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The Leaders

Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline (Jackie) Cochran sitting at a desk wearing her WASP uniform

In 1939, on the day after Germany's tanks rolled into Warsaw, pilot Jacqueline Cochran sent a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt encouraging the use of women pilots in the armed forces. In May 1940, another pilot, Nancy Harkness Love wrote the Ferry Division of the Army Air Forces with a similar idea, but the Army was not ready to put women in the cockpit of planes.

The demand for male combat pilots and warplanes left the Air Transport Command with a shortage of experienced pilots to ferry planes from factory to a point of embarkation. The leaders remembered Love's proposal and hired her to recruit twenty-five of the most qualified women pilots in the country to ferry military aircraft. These outstanding women pilots were called the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, or WAFS.

By September 14, 1942, General Henry "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, also approved a program that would train a large group of women to serve as ferrying pilots. The training school was placed under the direction of Cochran. The program was called the Army Air Forces Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD).

Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love portrait in her WASP uniform

Born in Michigan, Nancy began taking flying lessons at age 16 after going up with a barnstormer and earned her license later that year. She continued to fly during her college years and earned her commercial license after graduating from Vassar in 1932. While flying for the Inter-City Air Service in Boston, Nancy met Robert Love who she married in January 1936. Robert Love was appointed Air Transport Command deputy chief of staff and had an office next to Colonel Tunner. Love mentioned to Colonel Tunner that his wife was commuting by plane from Washington to Baltimore for her job, piquing Tunner’s interest in her piloting skills.

Tunner arranged a meeting with Nancy where she shared with him her idea of using skilled female pilots to ferry planes. Tunner was looking for pilots to deliver aircraft to air fields around the country. He asked Nancy to create a proposal and forwarded his notes to General George, who was in charge of the ATC.

The proposal for a women’s flying program was forwarded to General Hap Arnold in July 1942. After a letter asking for more current information, General George re-submitted the proposal and in September, told Nancy they had the go-ahead and to send telegrams to potential candidates. They would be called the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Five days later, General Arnold announced the formation of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) with Jackie Cochran as the leader. Nancy Love managed the extensive administrative duties first for her 25 WAFS and then for the expanded group of WASP assigned to the ATC. While running the program, Nancy still made time to fly.

After the WASP program was disbanded in December 1944, Nancy continued to fly while she raised three daughters. She was awarded the Air Medal and was given the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Air Force Reserve. She died in 1976.

General Hap Arnold

Douglas AAF, Douglas, Arizona. Jean Hixson (44-W-6) being congratulated by Gen. Hap Arnold. Geraldine Olinger (44-W-7) standing behind Jean Hixson on left.

Henry Arnold was born in Pennsylvania in June 1886 and after graduating high school, entered West Point, was commissioned a second lieutenant, and was sent to the Philippines. Arnold became interested in aeronautics and after asking for a transfer to the Signal Corps, he was sent to Ohio for a course in flight instruction at the Wright Brothers aviation school.

Arnold supported the development of the Air Corps through WWI and was appointed to Chief of Air Corps by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 29, 1938 eventually rising to the rank of Army Air Forces Commanding General in 1942.

During 1940, General Arnold did not consider women to ferry planes when it was suggested by Lt. Colonel Robert Olds of the Ferry Command. Due to the persistence of Jacqueline Cochran, the proposal was readdressed in 1942. At the same time Nancy Love was in charge of the WAFS, General Arnold approved Cochran’s initial program and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment was started. Eventually the WAFS and the WFTD merged becoming the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. In December 1944, after news of disbandment at the last class’s graduation, Arnold said he had not been sure of his decision but, “Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men.”

Arnold died in 1950 at home in California. He had earned most of the military honors the U.S. can give to a military leader including being appointed the first general of the Air Force at a five star rank.

 

Ethel Sheehy

Ethel Sheehy classbook photo

Ethel was an Iowa native who moved to Southern California with her husband in the early 1930s. For a time, she was San Bernardino County’s only licensed female pilot.. Ethel became an early member of the 99s and served as their president in 1944. Ethel flew in the 1935 National Air Derby with her husband as co-pilot and mechanic. They finished in 5th place.

When WWII began, her husband found work for the war effort in California and Ethel was asked by Jackie Cochran to recruit female pilots to ferry planes for the military. Ethel was the Chief Recruiting Officer for the WASP program. She sent wires to potential recruits and placed announcements in newspapers setting meeting times for potential trainees. She then interviewed them and sent them, if they met the basic requirements, for Army physicals. Ethel was promoted to Special Field Assistant and made inspection tours of the bases to check on the women and the conditions, making reports and changes as needed. Ethel continued to fly after the war. She died in Canada in 1962 while visiting family.

 

Leoti "Dedie" Deaton

Leoti Deaton classbook photo

In 1942, Leoti “Dedie” Deaton interviewed with WASP Director, Jackie Cochran, about the program. Shortly following their initial meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, Deaton was named the Chief Establishment Officer, a role that would utilize her exceptional organizational skills and her past experiences working as a Red Cross instructor and administrator while living in Wichita Falls, Texas. Deaton arranged lodging in Houston for the incoming recruits as well as transportation to and from the base, logistics involving meals, and creating the policies and rules for the trainees while on base.

Dedie continued to manage the trainees until the WASP were sent home in December 1944. After returning home to Wichita Falls, Dedie continued her work with the Red Cross. She died in 1986 and was buried in Wichita Falls.