A WASP named Brownie
I'm seventy-five now and this story dates from my mid twenties so at this point it's a half century old.
The first I heard of Brownie was when my Boss Peggy Coyle at J.M. Huber told me we were getting a new secretary in the place and she was a pilot and I was not to talk to her. Miss Coyle (I never called her Peggy and her married name was McKenna) knew I was capable of talking about flying to the exclusion of everything else including (especially) work. However, when people who share some deep interest meet the inevitable happens. It's like being in a foreign country and meeting someone from your home town.
So, as it happened, the next morning this older woman walked into the mailroom and said something like, "Hi, I'm Brownie. I hear you're a pilot." and that was that. I don't know how long we talked, but we exchanged a lot of information.
Brownie had been a WASP in WWII. In this case WASP stood for Women Airforce Service Pilots. Notice the last word of the acronym is pilots, so WASP is plural and saying WASP's would be redundant. The WASP did everything from ferrying bombers from factories to airbases, flying generals around, towing targets and in Brownie's case testing radio controlled drones based on the Culver Cadet airframe.
Sounds simple and sounds interesting. The country needed pilots and there were all these women who could fly, why not use them? The reality is that something like 25,000 women applied and of them 1,830 were accepted for training, of those 1,830 only1,074 actually became WASP.
In other words, this was an elite cadre.
Anyone who made it was highly motivated, extremely capable and persevering. The obstacles were numerous and the job was considered civil service rather than military. There was also no reimbursement for travel to or from training and no funeral expenses were paid for the thirty-eight women who were killed in various accidents. The WASP were disbanded before the war was over and the records of their service were sealed for no reason that is apparent to me today. It took many years before the records were released and the WASP were belatedly given military status.
The WASP have only gained recognition in recent years including President Obama awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal on July 1, 2009. For something that was done well over sixty years earlier that's pretty slow recognition, but two hundred of the original 1074 were still around to collect their medals.
I didn't know these things at the time, but Brownie's military flying did gain her respect from me. Had I known the true story of the WASP I would have been in awe of her.
One of the surprising things was we shared several acquaintances, including my flying instructor, his wife and some of the pilots flying at Wurtsboro where I spent most of my weekends. She was one of the crowd (I think most of them flew down in New Jersey before the war.) When I went to Wurtsboro on the weekend several people knew her and talked about her. The most interesting stories I heard about Brownie I got from Tony's wife Theresa. Her stories war nonjudgmental, but painted a picture of someone who liked to have a good time. Apparently she was in demand for chauffeuring generals around and her hi jinks eventually got her a divorce. I'll never know all the stories since Theresa is gone and Brownie also and finally, none of it is any business of mine. Tony, my flying instructor had fond memories of her and apparently considered her a good pilot, and he only knew her from before the war and before her military training.
Sometime during the following work week I said hello to Brownie using her given name. She made a fist and put it right under my chin and said, "See this fist? If you ever call me by that name again I'll use it on you!" So I smiled and said her secret was safe with me. Then we talked about old friends and stuff like that. She asked in a quiet voice if I heard anything about her ex and I told her that he was happily married and had a couple of kids. That seemed to please her.
Her married name was Brown. She and her husband had a Piper Cub and they painted a couple of Brownies (see the children's stories and poems by Palmer Cox) on the tail to replace the Piper Cub logo of the cute little bear cub holding the Piper Cub sign. I don't know if their brownies held the sign too, but Brownie had a big grin remembering their old airplane.
I once asked her if she ever had any close calls and she told me about her job of flying the Culver Cadet drones. The Culver Cadet was a two place, low wing plane with retractable landing gear. The target drone version had fixed tricycle landing gear. Brownie's job was to take one up, check it out to make sure everything was working right, then call the radio control pilot to take over. Then she had to take her hands and feet off the controls and sit there while someone else flew the plane. It was just a system check, but for the pilot in the plane a very uncomfortable experience until the radio control pilot was done and she could take back the controls. Then she would land and probably get into another drone and repeat the performance.
From what I've read the drones were flown air to air from a Twin Beech 18, which brings up the question of how did they land them? Possibly the airborne pilot could turn over control to a ground based pilot stationed near the runway. Imagine yourself in a car with someone a mile away driving it by remote control and you get a picture of what it must have been like like except that in a plane you can do much worse than going off the road or hitting a lamp post.
Brownie's close call came about because the original landing gear on the Culver Cadets had been replaced by a very simple makeshift tricycle landing gear. They almost certainly went to tricycle gear to save problems with ground handling, since tail draggers (planes with two main wheels and a tail wheel) are notoriously harder to handle on the ground and much more difficult to land than trike equipped planes. It's one thing to land a plane while sitting inside and quite another to land it from a half a mile away so the obstacle of difficult ground handling was removed. I fly radio control these days but modern RC gear is WAY more sophisticated than anything they could have imagined back then.
The problem was that these planes were considered expendable so the landing gear was now a pipe mounted in a pipe flange bolted to a hunk of plywood. At least that was Brownie's description of it. Once again, it's relatively easy for a good pilot to land a plane gently time after time, but flying by radio control you can never have the finesse of a pilot sitting in the plane. Most likely the landing gear was compromised by a bad landing or two or three under radio control and the gear finally collapsed on one of Brownie's landings. I'm sure she gave the plane a proper walk around inspection before taking off, but the gear collapsed and Brownie said the she was a hundred yards away from the plane running as fast as she could before she looked back to see what condition it was in. There was no fire and no explosion and nobody timed her hundred yard dash to see if it qualified for a world's record.
I don't remember what happened to Brownie. Our association was brief, so she must have left Huber. She's the sort of person I would have liked to listen to a lot more than I did.
It was wonderful to have met her and heard her stories first hand and get the reactions of people who knew her before her days as a WASP. She was well liked for good reason and I'm proud to have known her and proud to have know a WASP.
They were the best of the best.
found on the internet:
G.C. "Brownie" Brown
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and its predecessor groups the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD)
Cochran's training program was first known as the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), or "Woofteddies."
WFTD CLASS 43-1, The Guinea Pigs, 23 GRADUATES, 4/24/43, TWU 43-1 Bios
BOYSEN, Eleanor [Morgan]
BROWN, G. C. "Brownie" [Kindig]
SHELBYVILLE - G.C. "Brownie" Brown, 84, died Mon, Sep 20. Service 10:30am Thu at First Baptist Church. Visit 3-8pm Wed at Shannon Funeral Home.
Published in Lexington Herald-Leader on September 22, 2010
Read more: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/ken...#ixzz1W0IHP0Wr
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That was very interesting, it seem's I remember my mom mentioning Brownie. My mom spent most of her working life on Long Island so there's a good possibility they knew each other. Do you know if she was ever interviewed by Wing's Across America, a living history if you will. My mom's was done in 2003, if you would like I could make a copy of the dvd and send it to you. BTW here's my info
David Nutt Jr.
2532 West Crown King Drive
Tucson, Arizona 85741
Thank's again for the story of Brownie.
Sound like a book I'd like to read.
Personally I wonder what makes people want to fly. I wanted to fly from the first day my Uncle Ben told me there were people in those things flying by. I read a lot about women pilots because it's a bit more unusual for women to take up flying so I look there for clues on why flying is so important to some people.
I don't know and I don't think anyone ever will. It's a lt like music. Many people listen, some can play or sing, for others it's a way of life.
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