Archives: WASP

Time Travel: Head ‘Em Up, Move ‘Em Out

You’ve done it. You’re actually here–you have to pinch yourself. You’ve been accepted in the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) program as a cadet when thousands got rejection letters.

Your letter said to report to the Blue Bonnet Hotel in Sweetwater, Texas. You and dozens of other eager women…your new classmates…show up and mill around until a vehicle arrives to take you to Avenger Field. The nearby military base will serve as your home for months.

You hear it before you see it. A motor more cantankerous-sounding than an old man scolding neighborhood ruffians rumbles closer. Then you catch a glimpse as it ambles into view and stops in front of the hotel. The brakes squeak in protest.

Yes, it’s the “cattle wagon.”

photo by WASP Betty Stagg Turner

photo by WASP Betty Stagg Turner

The nickname for the humble transport buses stuck throughout the WASPs tenure at Avenger Field. Worn yet reliably present, the cattle wagon shuttled cadets from the Blue Bonnet Hotel to Avenger Field, outside of town.

Yet cadets grew more familiar with them during flight training. Not all flights took off from the main runway. Auxiliary fields dotted the outer reaches of Avenger’s rolling Texas plains. The cattle wagons ferried cadets back and forth down the bumpy, dusty roads, depositing them where needed.

No need for windows: most of the year, the extra ventilation proved a blessing. And who needed real bus seats? The two basic, hard benches lining the length of the bus made cajoling with the cadets in your flight (training group) easier. But too bad about the bumpy roads. The benches would’ve been nice for a catnap between exhausting training sessions.

Kind of makes my cushy car seats feel a little cushier.

What about you? What would you nickname your current mode of transportation?


Time Travel: I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque

Technologies like GPS have changed the world. These days it seems like we need it even to find our way to the grocery store. I exaggerate, but only a smidgen.



Mostly gone are my driving days like in college, when I was known to spontaneously travel hours by myself to visit friends in a new-to-me city. …Without – gasp! – a cell phone. Just me and a map. It was wonderful. Can you relate?

But can you imagine piloting a plane that way? In our era of autopilot airliners and drones, it’s easy to forget that early pilots didn’t have as much in the way of navigation aids. Compasses, maps, your own wits and good eyesight, limited radio tower help, and scant more were your friends for most cadets across World War II American airfields. And you got clear weather if you were lucky. If not, you’d better lug a good coat or jacket with you and hope your chilly fingers could manage the maps while you flew.

Picture yourself as a new pilot, focusing on the flying itself, yet also tasked with getting from Point A to Point B in unfamiliar territory. WASPs training in Sweetwater, Texas, like Marion Stegeman Hodgson sure could. She recalls in a letter to her mother in her autobiography, Winning My Wings: A Woman Airforce Service Pilot in World War II:

I went on my fourth solo cross-country (X-C) yesterday, and a strong wind blew me off course and made me temporarily uncertain. I decided to head for home anyway, but things started looking wrong, and the checkpoints didn’t jibe with my map. I buzzed a couple of towns but couldn’t find the names of them anywhere, so I turned around and went back to a town I had just passed over that had an airport…The roads leading out of each town made a similar pattern and the fields were located in the same place in relation to the towns. So I entered the traffic pattern with a bunch of PTs [primary trainers] and landed. The Army cadets and instructors nearly fell out of their planes when they saw a girl taxiing by in a BT [basic trainer]!

Other stories recount the added challenge of navigating at night in bad weather. Runway beacons often hid below fog and rain.

Aerial view

Pretty impressive what these pilots accomplished, day in and day out. It’s humbling. Makes we want to ditch the GPS for a while and show even more gratitude to WASPs and every pilot who served World War II.

In next month’s Time Travel hop in a biplane with me, and we’ll explore coastal Maine…

Questions for you: What would you think about learning to navigate as a solo pilot in World War II? Have you ever gotten really lost? How did you get back?

Women who served our country…WASPs

I’ve had several people ask me about the novel I’m writing, wanting to know more about the true story behind the story.  Future posts will reveal more, but for today I’ll share some basics.

The story is about a fictional young woman, but the setting is anything but fiction.  It involves the WASPs of World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots.  In the early/mid 1940s, more than 1,000 ladies trained in Sweetwater, Texas. After graduation, they performed varied miltary piloting duties across the country–and some overseas, freeing up more men for combat.

They served as ferrying pilots, flight instructors, objects of target practice, and test pilots for experimental or newly-repaired aircraft.  Thirty-eight of them died in the line of duty.  The WASPs were disbanded in 1944; thirty-three years later Congress granted them veteran status.

I get so excited talking about this project that I have to restrain myself from sharing more now.  You’ll find future posts about these courageous women.  In the meantime, follow this link to the WASP Museum if you want to read more: National WASP World War II Museum.

…And with Veterans’ Day right around the corner, please take time to thank each veteran you know.  I’m so grateful for their sacrifices on behalf of all of us.