Vintage: Female Pilots Trained for Duty in Sweetwater, Texas during World War II

Vintage: Female Pilots Trained for Duty in Sweetwater, Texas during World War II


In 1943, LIFE Magazine devoted a cover story to the Women Airforce Service Pilots training in Sweetwater, Texas. Looking at the images from this 1943 LIFE cover story about their training, it’s easy to see why the women of the WASP program fought for that recognition. Though the “girl pilots” seemed to be enjoying themselves during their training in Sweetwater, Texas7, they were devoted to their physical and classroom training, and able to meet the challenges the Army sent their way—including planes not designed for shorter pilots.

Cockpit procedure in twin-engine trainer is the first lesson Instructor Helen Duffy (right) gives her advanced students. When flying this plane, girls are near end of training.

Cockpit procedure in twin-engine trainer is the first lesson Instructor Helen Duffy (right) gives her advanced students. When flying this plane, girls are near end of training. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

"Arms to the side-raise:" snaps brisk command of an Army officer as a section of girl pilots begin their daily calisthenics drill, while overhead a primary trainer circles for attitude...

“Arms to the side-raise:” snaps brisk command of an Army officer as a section of girl pilots begin their daily calisthenics drill, while overhead a primary trainer circles for attitude… Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

In official dress uniform of white blouse, tan slacks and overseas cap, Shirley Slade smiles as her hair ruffles in Texas wind, free from the pigtail anchoring it has in LIFE's cover picture. The girls wear dress slacks for drill demonstrations and at graduation ceremony.

In official dress uniform of white blouse, tan slacks and overseas cap, Shirley Slade smiles as her hair ruffles in Texas wind, free from the pigtail anchoring it has in LIFE’s cover picture. The girls wear dress slacks for drill demonstrations and at graduation ceremony. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Hard bench is a feather bed to Elaine Jones, Houston Texas, who was flying until 3 A.M. previous night.

Hard bench is a feather bed to Elaine Jones, Houston Texas, who was flying until 3 A.M. previous night. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Letter home is written by Madge Rutherford to folks in Indianapolis as she awaits her flight period on the basic line. Ordinarily a girl will fly two-one-hour periods in an afternoon on the line. With "buddy rides" in basic, the time is doubled.

Letter home is written by Madge Rutherford to folks in Indianapolis as she awaits her flight period on the basic line. Ordinarily a girl will fly two-one-hour periods in an afternoon on the line. With “buddy rides” in basic, the time is doubled. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Hair streams in breeze as fledgling girl pilot solos her trainer in a primary practice flight.

Hair streams in breeze as fledgling girl pilot solos her trainer in a primary practice flight. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

In primary ready room, studious girls memorize the Morse code until the whir of a returning PT flight is heard. Then they get parachutes and take over pilots seats themselves.

In primary ready room, studious girls memorize the Morse code until the whir of a returning PT flight is heard. Then they get parachutes and take over pilots seats themselves. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A Sunday sunbath for Avenger pilots.

A Sunday sunbath for Avenger pilots. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Sunburned nose and forehead are daubed with protective cream by Rebecca Edwards of Yazoo City, Miss., 22-year-old widow whose husband was killed during duty with the Army Air Forces. Standing next to Rebecca and leaning against the corner of the primary hangar from which both of the girls fly is Lorena Daly of Bakersfield, Calif. They each have on the G.I. coveralls, called "zoot suits" in Avenger Field lingo, that are regulation uniform for all working hours. Though suits are not very glamorous, the girls like their comfort and freedom.

Sunburned nose and forehead are daubed with protective cream by Rebecca Edwards of Yazoo City, Miss., 22-year-old widow whose husband was killed during duty with the Army Air Forces. Standing next to Rebecca and leaning against the corner of the primary hangar from which both of the girls fly is Lorena Daly of Bakersfield, Calif. They each have on the G.I. coveralls, called “zoot suits” in Avenger Field lingo, that are regulation uniform for all working hours. Though suits are not very glamorous, the girls like their comfort and freedom. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marching around wishing well at Avenger Field, girls toss coins for luck if they're due for a flight with an Army pilot. Always the trainees march in formation to the "Hup, two, three, four!" of their section leader, going to mess, ground school or flight line.

Marching around wishing well at Avenger Field, girls toss coins for luck if they’re due for a flight with an Army pilot. Always the trainees march in formation to the “Hup, two, three, four!” of their section leader, going to mess, ground school or flight line. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Jacqueline Cochran, glamorous speed flier who developed Women's Flying Training Detachment, is center of this group of protogees in flight-line ready room. While girls wait their turn to fly, they question Miss Cochran on her trip to England and other experiences.

Jacqueline Cochran, glamorous speed flier who developed Women’s Flying Training Detachment, is center of this group of protogees in flight-line ready room. While girls wait their turn to fly, they question Miss Cochran on her trip to England and other experiences. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

In ground school subjects the girls study more diligently than the aviation cadets who preceded them at Avenger Field, according to the instructors. If marks are low students have extra study halls in the evening to catch up. Trainees above are in meteorology class, learning to read symbols and weather maps of the sort that they will use as ferry pilots.

In ground school subjects the girls study more diligently than the aviation cadets who preceded them at Avenger Field, according to the instructors. If marks are low students have extra study halls in the evening to catch up. Trainees above are in meteorology class, learning to read symbols and weather maps of the sort that they will use as ferry pilots. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Flight dispatcher looking through binoculars as she watches overflight training traffic of trainee pilots of the Women's Flying Training Detachment at Avenger Field.

Flight dispatcher looking through binoculars as she watches overflight training traffic of trainee pilots of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment at Avenger Field. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Female pilot of the US Women's Air Force Service posed with her leg up on the wing of an airplane.

Female pilot of the US Women’s Air Force Service posed with her leg up on the wing of an airplane. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Short-legged girls stow extra cushions in basic trainer before starting instrument flight, called a "buddy ride" because it's always flown in pairs, with one girl checking the other.

Short-legged girls stow extra cushions in basic trainer before starting instrument flight, called a “buddy ride” because it’s always flown in pairs, with one girl checking the other. Photo: Peter Stackpole—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


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