Earlier this year I had the opportunity to go to Sun N Fun, the largest air show/air convention in Florida. While there, our guide, Paris Dolinger, founder of Waypoint Excursions, pulled some strings and got us tickets to attend a luncheon for the Ninety-Nine’s, which is an international organization for woman pilots. During the luncheon, two WASP pilots and a Tuskegee airman were interviewed, and it was amazing to hear all of their stories. After, my brother, Student Ambassador Clement Whitaker, and I got to interview the two Ninety-Nine’s pilots. Here’s their story!
MJ: “Today we are here with two WASP pilots from WWII. Would you like to introduce yourselves?”
B: “My name is Bernice “B” Falk Haydu. I am a WASP, which is a Woman Aviation Service Pilot. We were the first women to fly military aircraft in WWII. “
Kay: “My name is Kathleen Hilbrandt. I was a WASP in WWII.”
MJ: “So what inspired you to become a pilot and join the WASP’s?”
Kay: “My history goes back to when I was a baby. My father was born on Long Island, and I was born there, and he used to take me to the airport when I was only about two years old. But Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh and everybody was landing and flying in and out of there. This was back in the 20’s and 30’s, but then we moved from Long Island down to New Jersey, and I was about four years old. There was an airport in West Field, where you every near that B?”
Kay: “Yeah, there was an airport in West Field, and my father used to take me there to watch the parachute jumps and the flying and so forth. So he kind of instilled aviation into me when I was very young. And all through high school I had a couple of boy students that were interested in flying, they used to draw airplanes for me. They wanted to become pilots too. So I had the influence of aviation all through my life.
MJ: “So how do you think being women affected your career as pilots?”
Kay: “Well it doesn’t affect you at all.”
B: “I think there was discrimination, but somehow or another I found if you minded your own business, and didn’t try to through your weight around, that eventually you were accepted based on the job that you were doing. Your job, it’s just what it was worth. So I would say that it didn’t affect me personally, but it did affect some people.
MJ: “What challenges did you have to overcome from being civilians and then all of a sudden being thrown into the military?”
B: “Well we had to learn everything military, you know, we had to learn how to march, to salute, and ground school and learn how to fly. So there was a lot that was quite a bit different, it was much more regimented than civilian flying. You had to learn, for instance, in there period of time that they allowed for you to learn. It wasn’t that some people couldn’t learn to fly, everybody can, it’s just that some people take a little bit longer to learn something than others. And they couldn’t tolerate that, you had to learn in that period of time.”
Kay: “Also even to get in, you still had to go through what the cadets did. We had to go through the army physical, and an aptitude test that we had to take before we could qualify. And then we had to wait until we were called.
MJ: “So what were your first missions like and what did you experience the first time you were up there?”
B: “You mean this is after we graduated?”
B: “Well it depended; there was a training command and a ferrying command. At the ferry command you ferried aircraft wherever they had to go within this country and Canada, we weren’t allowed outside of those two places. And so… I forgot the question.”
MJ: “What was your first mission like?”
B: “So I was in the training command, and I was stationed in Pecos, Texas and there I flew the UC-78 the AT-17, those are advanced twin engine trainers, and then the field became a B-25 field, the B standing for bomber. And I had some lessons in the B-25, but I didn’t have an opportunity to solo because we were disbanded December 20th, 1944.”
Kay: “After my training, I was assigned to Eagle pass, which was a field where they were teaching cadets how to fly under the hood, on instruments only. We were there buddy pilots or there safety pilots. We flew with them and watched out for other aircraft and kept them safe.”
MJ: “So what is your favorite memory from being a pilot in the military and then flying afterwards?”
B: “Well my favorite was winning my wings. O golly! I worked 7 hard months, lot of hard work, lot of sweat, heartaches, tests to pass, so I would say winning my wings. Which are here, the WASP wings. In the middle of them is a lozenge, which is the Greek symbol for womanhood. The men’s wings are a little bit different; theirs is the Greek symbol for manhood. So that’s what the symbols in the middle mean.
MJ: “Well thank you so much for letting us interview you, we admire you so much, you are our inspiration.”