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Debbie Douglas on: The Need for Women Military Pilots
Debbie Douglas Q: How did the need for women military pilots arise?

The women who were recruited to be military pilots or to assist the military during the second World War were brought into that whole maze of personnel because we had a massive number of airplanes being built. Roosevelt promised 50,000 airplanes a year in a time when we were barely producing a few thousand airplanes a year. And all of a sudden Hitler invades Poland, war breaks out in Europe, and the military planners, especially in the Army Air Forces, became very, very anxious about the fact that we need pilots. We need airplanes and we need pilots. Their first emphasis was planes. We don't have anything to fly. And to give you a sense of that, in 1939 we manufactured about 900 military airplanes. A year later that number, you know, grows somewhat - up to about 6,000 or so. And that number grows steadily through the war. So that we go from 900 to 6,000 to 20,000 to 48,000 - up to 85, 96,000 airplanes in 1944. And then D-day happens. We see the war coming to a conclusion. The number of airplanes and military purchases drops off to 40, 48,000 in 1945.

In December of '43 we had 74,000 men and women in pilot training. They knew they had enough pilots to carry them through the end of the war. But they matched pilot training to aircraft. So as aircraft production ramped up, a few months later pilot production has to ramp up as well. We had a civilian pilot training program in this country but really there was no mechanism. There weren't bases. And the option was contract out to civilian operations to set up training camps all over the U.S. to train these pilots. In the interim, there were very cognizant of what other countries were doing. And in Great Britain the shortage of pilots had led to the recruiting of women and that was known as . . . what was the Air Transport Auxiliary and there was a women's group led by Pauline Gower. And that really planted the idea for a formal women's program in this country. There had been people who had thought about the idea of using women in the military prior to the start of World War II. Mainly they envisioned women as clerks, as stenographers, as typing pool personnel. But there were some women who had been pilots who had fantasies about serving as pilots and using their skills that way.

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