Friday, December 10, 2010

WASP Files: May 1940 - Nancy Harkness Love writes to General Hap Arnold

Sometime during May, 1940, Nancy Harkness Love writes to Colonel Robert Olds. She knows of 49 women, perhaps 15 more, all having accumulated at least 100 hours of flight time, "on a great many ships". She suggests these women could be used by the Army to ferry aircraft.

Olds broaches the subject with General Hap Arnold. Arnold responds that the Army Air Corps has no need for women pilots, but such women could perhaps take the place of commercial pilots who could then take on military dities.

Here's the background behind Nancy Love's suggestion:

28 September, 1938
Brigadier General Henry H. Arnold, nicknamed Hap, attends a conference at the White House to discuss the possibility of war with Nazi Germany.

Arnold points out that Germany has 8,000 combat-planes, of which 6,000 are combat ready. The United States, on the other hand, has fewer than 1,000 bombers and fighter aircraft, and most of these are obsolete.

Arnold suggests that the Army Air Corps must have 7,500 modern combat planes, plus 2,500 training planes, along with the men - pilots and mechanics.

At this point the Army Air Corps has only 1,650 air officers and 16,000 enlisted men.

President Roosevelt agrees with Arnold's assessment and orders the Air Corps be beefed up immediately.

29 September, 1938
Arnold is appointed Chief of the Air Corps. Knowing that the military at that time has the capacity to train only 750 pilots a year, he sets a plan in motion whereby civilian flying schools witll give Air Corps cadets their initial training.

3 September, 1939
Only days less than a year later, Nazi Germany invades Poland. As soon as President Roosevelt hears the news, he names George C. Marshall Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

28 September, 1938
Jacqueline Cochran, the United States' most famous woman pilot at that time, reads the headlines. Cochran is married to millionaire Floyd Oldum, who controls Atlas Corporation and its subsidiary, Consolidated Vultee Aircraft, writes to Eleanor Roosevelt suggesting that women pilots could help the US Army Air Corps by releasing men for combat duty, taking over "ambulance planes, courier planes...and transport planes." She suggests that a force of 650 women be allowed to start pilot training immediately. Although Eleanor Roosevelt is in favor of the idea, President Roosevelt is not yet ready to consider it.

January 1940
England forms the ATA (air transport auxiliary), a civilian group, and eight women are signed on to ferry planes across the country. (The ATA also has male pilots, who are unfit for miilitary service. The male pilots were of course paid more than their female colleagues.)

9 April, 1940
German panzers invade Norway and Denmark. Meanwhile in the United States, aircraft production has been delayed as various factions in Congress argue the program's merits.

16 May, 1940
Congress is told the news that France is expected to surrender to Germany shortly. Congress approves the funding for 11,000 planes.

It is amid this atmosphere that Nancy Love, independent of Jacqueline Cochran, makes her suggesiton to General Arnold, via Robert Olds.

On Final Approach: The WOmen Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, Byrd Howell Granger, Falconer Publishing Company, 1991

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