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Mother Flies Hurricanes by E. M. Singer
Novel about England's Air Transport Auxiliary and the challenges of its ferry pilots in World War II.

Comments by the author

In writing this story, I have sought above all to accurately convey the history and workings of the Air Transport Auxiliary, especially in regard to the women ferry pilots. During WWII, the press tended to play up the glamorous angle of women in newsreel images and photos showing them climbing, with casual, confident smiles, into Hurricanes and Spitfires. This wartime propaganda obscured the struggle that these women faced to be accepted, and the passage of time has veiled the long, hard road of the physical and psychological challenges they had to travel.

The "First Eight" knew that the hopes and dreams of so many other women pilots were travelling with them on those bleak, frozen journeys to the North in their tiny biplanes; not only in England, but in the rest of the world as well. The ATA was the direct forerunner of the WASP program in the United States; Jacqueline Cochran was able to present the sterling record of the women ATA pilots to the U.S. Army Air Forces, and thus get the go-ahead to organize American women into their own ferrying service. And once the "genie" was uncorked, there was no going back. Eventually women gained entry into commercial, professional, and military aviation, and finally into America's space program, because of these "First Eight" and the ATA women ferry pilots who followed them.

I have chosen to place Alice into the ATA in early 1941; not that hers would be a "typical" experience of women ferry pilots -- there really was not what could be termed a typical experience. The early joiners were light-years ahead of their later counterparts in experience and skill, and needed little formal training as they progressed to more advanced aircraft types. By March of 1941, the ATA Conversion School was getting underway, and the women who joined at that time were the first to fully benefit from this organized system of classroom and in-flight instruction. As the war progressed, and the doors were opened to women with little or no flying experience at all, the small cozy, group of women aviators became a sizeable force. Alice would thus be "in the middle" of this transition, being closely acquainted with the early joiners, and knowing of their struggles, and also at the forefront of the throng of women who sailed through the conversion programs later on. If I couldn't present a "typical" experience of a woman ferry pilot, I could at least offer one that would be fairly comprehensive in conveying the varied experiences of women ATA aviators.

In this, I have tried to be as faithful to the historical record as possible. There are two aspects in which my story plays hard and loose with the facts: The first is in placing the Class 2 training at White Waltham in early 1943. By that time the Class 2 conversion courses had moved to Thame, after being transferred to Luton from White Waltham in early 1942. There was really no way I could contrive to have Andrew meet the American women pilots except by overstriking reality in this instance.

The second aspect is in regard to the amount of information that Alice communicates to Andrew about aircraft and other technical matters. ATA pilots were charged with secrecy, just as if they had been in the military. Their mail was censored, and they were not even allowed to have cameras on base. In conveying the story through Andrew's eyes, there would not have been very much to tell about the ATA had I not given in to dramatic license on this score. For that matter, there are others in my cast of characters who are absolute blabbermouths as to matters they should be keeping quiet about. Andrew is intuitive, but not telepathic, and the only way to present this information is by suspending this particular prohibition within the confines of my story.

One last word: The "ever so nice" American Ferry Pool commander at Lossiemouth is Ed Heering, who was the only American to head an ATA Ferry Pool. He not only commanded Lossiemouth, he designed it, and oversaw its construction. After the war, every male head of the ATA Ferry Pool received an OBE from the British government. Two women who commanded Ferry Pools received MBEs. Ed, because he commanded what was technically considered a Sub-Pool, received nothing. When this matter is mentioned to him, he invariably dismisses it with a casual wave of his hand, and a gentle smile: "We Americans aren't concerned about things like that." At an ATA reunion a few years ago, the British contingent of the ATA Association presented him with a lovely framed photograph of an aerial view of Lossiemouth; he was touched beyond words, and considered it honor enough. Yet there are man of those in the American contingent who served in the ATA, and who formed the largest foreign contingent in the organization: One pilot in seven was American.

It has been over a half-century since the books were closed on the most devastating conflict in history; courage and sacrifice were ordinary virtues in those days. In the flood of honors at the war's end, it was understandable for many to get lost in the shuffle. Still, it would be a welcome and appropriate gesture, after all these years, to see this oversight redressed.

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