We Represented All Women
During World War II, WASPs proved that an airplane couldn’t tell the difference between a male and female pilot.
- By Jonna Dootlittle Hoppes
- AirSpaceMag.com, June 22, 2009
Courtesy Jonna Hoppes
(Page 3 of 4)
It was an old airplane, a twin engine with a big tail wheel. The wind blew so hard that the tail kept whipping around and it took all my strength—arms and legs and everything—to hold her steady just to taxi onto the runway. As we rolled into take-off position, he shut down one engine, forcing a single engine procedure on take-off. I feathered the one engine and upped the power on the other side. It took some doing, but I got her airborne on the first try.
“Let me shoot a landing,” he said.
I relinquished the controls. He made a good landing.
“Now you do it,” he told me.
Well, I really greased the plane on my landing [made a perfect landing]. I nursed my anger and tapped a strength that came from that well deep inside me.
“OK, shoot another one.”
So I did. I could have flown a bathtub that day, and I think he knew it.
“Let’s go back to the field,” he said.
We went back to the field and check pilot Williams pulled him aside. I could tell Williams was angry and hoped he wouldn’t cause a scene.
“Well, how’d she do?” Williams asked, a little pulse beating in his cheek betraying his anger.
“You know, she can fly!”
My first assignment was ferrying a plane from Love Field to Newark, New Jersey. Our basic training included only a few cross-country flights and they were relatively short.
“I’m not sure I can do this,” I told my commanding officer.
“Sure you can, Vi. Look,” she spread a map out on the table, “do you think you can fly from here to Columbus?”
I looked at the map. “Sure, I can do that.”
“OK, how about from Columbus to Pittsburgh?”
I studied the map. It wasn’t that far. “I can do that.”
“Well, how about from Pittsburgh to Newark?”
“I can do that, too.”
“OK, now let’s put it all together.”
And I did. In fact, in a relatively short time, I became so accustomed to cross-country flights that I could fly from Dallas or Long Beach to Newark without maps. I knew all the calls, how far between checkpoints and just how long it would take. It because so routine that sometimes, when we flew in groups, we’d have picnics in the air. A bunch of us would pick up box lunches from the Red Cross and take them with us.
“I’m eating my sandwich,” someone would call out over the radio, and we would all eat our sandwiches.
“I’m eating my apple.”
I swear you could hear the crunch of crisp apples in that silent bowl of the sky. Each of us sat in our own plane enjoying a picnic over the airwaves. We had such fun!
After paying my dues, I earned the right to lead some of the flights. I worked out the flight plans and kept the group together. When I was in charge, I would take off first, using the radio to communicate with my fellow pilots. Each mission required code names and I’d call out, sometimes over a restricted frequency, “Leader Coconut took off.”
“Coconut One took off,” the next pilot called out.
“Coconut Two took off.”
“Coconut Three took off.”
And so on, until finally we would hear from the tower.
“Will the Coconuts please get off this frequency!”
But by that time, we were together and on our way.
Oh, I love flying! And I love the clouds. Sometimes I would be flying in a group and see a pretty cloud. I’d scoot over and take a closer look at it. And I’d hear one of the other pilots on the radio say, “That’s Vi out there sitting on the clouds again!”
I was one of only 114 women selected for pursuit training. Men and women trained together and were broken into units of four per instructor. There were three men in my group of four, and with these guys, I felt equal. I mean, they accepted me as a fellow pilot. But our instructor had never flown with a woman before and was a basket case.
“Well, how’s she doing?” one of the guys would ask.
“I don’t know,” our instructor would answer. “I just don’t know if she can cut it.”