Jane McRae, Alabama Chapter
During World War II, my husband was with Gen. Patton somewhere in Europe. At home, my dream was to be a WASP and fly all kinds of planes to faraway places. I received my medical certificate from the Civil Aeronautics Administration on April 20, 1944. I was ecstatic ...l can fly! I can fly!
I took my flying lessons with a glider pilot who would frequently turn off the engine and ask: "What are you going to do now?" He gave me confidence that I could safely land the plane, even on a makeshift runway. I soloed with delight, and soon flew my triangled map to other cities and returned jubilant that the pilot's license was almost in my hands.
But in December 1944 some men stopped the WASP flights. The women pilots begged to continue with only a dollar a year for pay. But no, no, no, the men told the ladies. The WASPs were heartbroken. So was I -- my dream was over.
In January 1945, pilot certificate in hand, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, to the CAA to request a job. I hardly sat down before I was asked to be an Air Traffic Control tower operator in North Carolina, Washington, D.C. or Miami, Florida. I chose Florida.
The Miami tower was a very tall red and white building in the very middle of the largest airfield of all airports at the time. Every day and night we climbed those 100 steps: two girls, four men and the director.
The Miami tower had two landing patterns on parallel runways: one for commercial planes on the right and military on the left about a mile away. Tower operators rarely stopped communicating with landing planes and those taking off. In addition to parallel runways, the tower controlled a highway that crossed the north-south runway with a light gun. A seldom used train track crossed this same runway and was also controlled by operators. All in the tower had to be very alert.
Each controller carried an airman I.D. card with photo and finger prints. Each week we might work with a different controller -- some very intelligent, some humorous, some shy, some lazy. We had really great parties. One pilot had a pontoon plane. What a delight to land and taxi in the water. Some of the pilots on base would take the girls flying in an AT6 -- open cockpit. Great fun.
A very bad hurricane came along and our tower suffered a lot of damage. Though not named at that time, l called it the "Bully, Bully." The military offered a small temporary one-story building for two months where we could see the runways on the military side but hardly any of the rest of the field. When our tower was almost ready for occupancy, German prisoners close to the airport were assigned to paint it.
After settling in after the "Bully, Bully" hurricane, the very first jet plane flew down from Nashville to the Miami airport. What a beautiful picture as the pilot buzzed our field right by the tower.
The war ended in Europe. Troops returned to help end the war in Japan. My husband arrived for Christmas, handsome and healthy. We enjoyed three months together before we went home to Birmingham
I began to work for the Girl Scouts where I started the first Wing Scout program in Alabama. Four years later, our own little "wing scout" flew into our lives, then another and another.
I still have my private pilot flight record and log book, medical certificates, but most of all, I am very pleased to receive my private pilot card for June 2001. Most wonderful of all, I am now a member of The 99s and wear my beautiful pin with great pride.