~Kay Gott Chaffey, 43-W-2
Houston Municipal Airport and Avenger Field:
Following Jacqueline Cochran’s call for women pilots to train to fly for the US Army Air Corps, 25,000 applications were received. Those who met the qualifications for training numbered only 1,830. Ultimately, 1,074 would graduate from the program earning their silver wings.
Initially, trainees had to have 200 flying hours and be between the ages of 21 and 35. They also had to be American citizens, high school graduates, and able to pass the written cadet exam, as well as an Army physical.
The first batch of applications was sent to 150 women, 130 of whom responded immediately. Each was personally interviewed by Cochran. Thirty were selected for the first class and notified by telegram to report to Houston at their own expense.
When they arrived at Houston Municipal Airport, Cochran was there to greet them. She explained that their training was classified, that there would be no publicity and no glory, just hard work and that the future of women in military aviation depended on their success. The commanding officer, a male captain, not too pleased with his new assignment told the group: “If you think you’re hot shots, I advise you to forget it. You are here to learn the way the Army flies.”
Up before dawn, the trainees spent nearly 12 hours a day at the airfield. Half their day was spent flying in very crowded airspaces doing stalls, spins, turns, take offs, and landings. While the other half of the day was spent in ground school studying navigation, flight training, physics, aerodynamics, electronics, mathematics, weather, communications, meteorology, Morse code, military law, and aircraft mechanics. By the time they graduated, the women had spent 560 hours in ground school and 210 hours in flight training.
They followed a strict military regimen; barracks were six to a room and one bathroom for 12 girls. They marched everywhere, did calisthenics, and ended their day with taps. They were ladies with a purpose, and took part in parades, infantry drills, barracks inspection, and oaths of allegiance just like the male cadets.
While the first classes of the Women’s Training Flying Detachment were making the best of the situation at Houston, Cochran was searching for a better location to conduct training. She looked for a facility with centralized housing on base, classrooms, repair hangars, a dining hall, increased air space, a fenced perimeter and the availability of BT-13s and AT-6s for advanced training. Eventually Cochran found exactly what she was looking for at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. By February 1943, the program had transitioned to Avenger Field. In the end, 18 classes would pass through the gates receiving training the Army way, before shipping off to other destinations throughout the country.