Flournoy describes what it meant to be a WASP for herself and for women around the world
Flournoy was born in Wheaton, Missouri on March 30th, 1921. The Depression affected her family but as a kid she did not know anything different. She remembers not having much money but she assumed that was the way things were. She recalls men coming to her home looking for work. Her mother always fed them when they could. She grew up in a country town, Wheaton only had about three hundred people. It had a bank, a tiny hospital, and two grocery stores. Her father was a dentist and her mom was a homemaker. She had one brother who was a year and a half younger. Flournoy was in Joplin Junior College and graduated in 1939. There was a program called CPT (Civil Pilot Training.) Ten percent could be girls. Flournoy listened to a girl talk about her experiences in the CPT and it inspired her to fly. It was not a lifelong ambition to fly. Flournoy was twenty years old when she got her pilots license. She got her license after about thirty five hours of flight time.Flournoy worked in a dime store and a defense plant. They made die's for bullet shells. She made good money at the defense plant. She was contacted to interview for the WASPs in Kansas City so she took a bus there. She joined, but her friend who she went to pilot school with did not join. She was twenty one at the time and was able to join without her mothers position. From there she went to Sweetwater, Texas. She was concentrating on her own career at that point. She arrived in Sweetwater in the middle of the night. Flournoy met the other WASPs she was with. They stayed in the Blue Bonnet Hotel in Sweetwater. The next day they were picked up and sent to their barracks. They had primary, basic, and advanced training. There were some men at the base when she got there but they left to make room for the women.
In primary training they flew the PT-19. It was an open cockpit aircraft. Basic training was BT-13's and BT-15's. Her advanced training was split between flying the AT-6 and the PT-17 which was a twin engine, fabric covered aircraft. They called the PT-17 the "bamboo bomber." She was then sent to Hondo Army Air Field which was a navigation school. Seven of the ladies she was with were assigned to that depot which involved testing the aircraft and flying them. Sometimes they delivered parts.Flournoys mother had moved to Los Angeles at that point. She would go on her graduation flight to Los Angeles. They flew there navigating by the sun. At night they flew by reading the stars. Pilots had to learn how to fly at the right altitude and the right direction. They had a radio and instruments to help. The instruction she received in the WASPs was much more intense then the Civilian Training program. One of the rituals for the WASPs included getting dunked into a pool after the completion of their first solo flight. Flournoys first solo flight was in the Civilian program. She was good at flying. She remembers having to get used to aircraft that were heavier and that had more horsepower. She never had any close calls when she was flying, however one of her classmates was killed at Sweetwater. Flournoy did not detect any animosity directed towards women pilots. There was a major however who made it clear that when the women arrived that he thought they should stay at home where they belong. He was not mean about it. The major was transferred away and a captain took over who was younger and was more supportive of the women. Flournoy cannot recall the names of her commanding officers. She stayed in Sweetwater training for about six months. The flying gear they had was all hand-me-down equipment. She remembers having to deal with dust storms in Sweetwater. Flournoy and the other women were not allowed to socialize with the other male pilots. They had plenty of equipment to train with. From Sweetwater they went to Hondo Air Base. At Hondo they focused on navigation.
After an airplane engine had flown a certain number of times it would be due for an overhaul. If it was in good condition they would fly it and recommend they fly it a few more hours before it was overhauled. Flournoy flew co-pilot on a few missions. She would fly out to Los Angeles to visit her mother. She also flew missions to deliver parts to various bases all over the country. She had to fly new airplanes at low speeds to break the engines in, much like how a new car is broken in. They had to fly slowly to record the instrument readings. The breaking-in flights took about two hours. They only had two types of planes at the navigation school; the AT-7 and the C-60 which that a Lockheed plane. The cadets learned navigation in the back of the C-60 because it was set up for training. Flournoy stayed at Hondo in Texas until the WASPs disbanded in 1944. Most of her job was routine. The people in Hondo accepted the WASPs. She went into town a few times but not much. She never felt resented at Hondo. She recalls Life Magazine running a cover that featured a WASP. Flournoy did not keep track of current views on the WASPs during the war. She does not recall the exact moment she found out about the WASPs disbanding but she did know about two months beforehand that the WASPs were going to be disbanded. She was not aware of the political battle that took place regarding the rights of the WASPs. She wanted to continue flying after the WASPs were disbanded so she wrote numerous places to see if she could fly. She came out of the WASPs with a commercial rating and a multiple engine rating.
Flournoy did not have an instructors rating. She went to Alice airport [Annotators Note: Alice, Texas airport] after the war and continued her training. She never did get her instructors rating. She got a job working for a commercial company; she operated a small plane for them. She married in 1946. They never moved from Alice, Texas. They were married fifty seven years. Flournoy did not realize she was a trailblazer for women's rights. She looks back now and realizes what she did was very important. She has had many women pilots come up to her and thank her for what she did.The living conditions at Hondo were good. They stayed in civilian barracks. There were only seven WASPs with Flournoy at Hondo. She did not have much free time, but she remembers swimming and watching movies. She flew until she had her first child. After that she did not fly again for about twenty years. She started flying again in the late 1960's. Her two girls wanted to fly so she taught them how to fly. Her first solo flight after twenty years was something else. The instructor made her take eight hours with her. Flournoy flew around and in her words she "made one approach but landed fifteen times." Her first landing in twenty years was a little bouncy. Her family ended up buying interest in a small airplane; it did not work out though so her husband bought a Cessna 337. Flournoy never dwelled on the conditions or pay, she was content. She flew all over the country with her Cessna; she also flew to a few of the reunions. Her family had to sell the airplane in the 1980's. The last time Flournoy flew was in the 1980's. Being in the WASPs changed Flournoys life. She would have never met her husband or gotten the chance to do things such as fly.
Flournoy believes that World War II changed the world. She also believes that any current war will change the world. She believes that World War II stirred everything up and that people had to learn things that they did not expect to learn. She also believes that people were extremely unified during the war. People rationed everything and made sacrifices. She believes that male civilian pilots were the ones who fought to keep the women out of the airplane business. Flournoy believes that the National World War II Museum is a great thing to have and that the American people need it to remember what happened during World War II.
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