The photo on the cover shows a very neat lady who is laughing at the photographer whilst hanging out of the left cockpit window (so, the ‘pilot in command’). That ‘in command’ flying seems a ‘piece of cake’ with that relaxed look of hers, but this book makes clear that this, especially for the American women, was a hard-fought battle.
The book tells the story of the in Great Britain and America trained female group of pilots that had to relieve men for air battle tasks. At first they only did this by flying with new and repaired airplanes from the factory to the operational squadrons. Later, a multiple of supporting tasks were added, like air taxi, ambulance, radar calibrations, towing drag targets for firing exercises etc. In short, everything was also done by the women in the end, except for actually taking part in the air battles. Moreover, more than once the women were surprised by German hunters and did not life to tell it.
The British began with this in 1940. That took a bit of getting used to for the mustachioed RAF-pilots, but within a matter of time, the skepticism turned to appreciation for the women who got through to the selection and training. In the United Stated, this initiative was taken over, with in the lead, Jacqueline Cochran, herself renowned as female pilot with various records on her name and married with a multimillionaire. Cochran primarily had her own ego on the agenda, which turned into dramatic results for the group piloting American women. The public opinion and thus the Congress became negative about the female pilots, through the nagging of Cochran about a military status for ‘her’ women. They did not manage to pilot till the end of the war and initially were also not regarded as veterans. Only much later a form was found for this. This stands in stark contrast compared to the appreciation that their British colleagues received. How this ended up going so differently in Great Britain and the United States, is explained in great detail. Serious matter for the reader!
Women of course stay women when they are flying! A female pilot flies a brand new sky blue Spitfire explorer from the factory to a base on the main land. Wants to try a slow roll when on height. Does not go smoothly, flies upside down for a while. Powder box slides from her breast pocket en jumps open against the cockpit perspex. Then she has to fly blindly. The reaction of the men on the ground, who had to undo the plane from the sticky stuff, can be guessed!
The women were also deployed as moral up lifter. When a squadron had endured a hard time it happened that with the delivering of new planes, the women had been instructed to talk with as many men as possible and to stay for dinner. But then fast to their safe haven! The multiple anecdotes and also attractive photo material make this book, next to the very serious history telling, surely worthwhile to spent time at.