Friday, June 10, 2011
Booklist: A WASP Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in World War II
A WASP Among Eagles: A Woman Military Test Pilot in World War II , by Ann B. Carl
A jet-age pioneer, Carl was the only American woman to test-fly experimental planes during WWII and the first woman to fly a jet. She was one of about a thousand WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), women military flyers on the home front, whoAwith zero publicity and very low statusAferried planes to bases, served as flight instructors and test-piloted repaired aircraft. This extraordinary memoir is a spirited, timely story about staying aloft in a male-dominated profession.
The WASPs learned that they had to look out for themselves, checking the planes for defects, befriending mechanics and passing the hat to pay for the funerals of the 38 women aviators who lost their lives. (Congress would not pass legislation making female military pilots full-fledged members of the Air Force until 1977.) The author, who married astronautical engineer Major William Carl just after V-E Day, test-piloted planes like the B-29 Superfortress bomber. In 1944, she made history evaluating the Bell YP-59A jet fighter at the Wright-Patterson test center in Dayton, Ohio, where soft-spoken Orville Wright was a frequent guest, ushering in the age of jet propulsion.
The writing is a bit pedestrian, and this autobiography may lack the romantic flair of other aviatrix' memoirs, but when Carl gets down to reliving hazardous assignments or describing the sheer magic of flying, her narrative is bracing and enthralling. Her resilience and energy are evident in her postwar activities as a journalist, environmental activist, homemaker and sailor whose two-year journey from Bermuda to Turkey and back was described in her 1985 book, The Small World of Long-Distance Sailors. Photos.