Imagine, if you will, what it must have been like to be one of the first women pilots flying for the United States military in the World War II era. In Betty Gillies, WAFS Pilot: The Days and Flights of a World War II Squadron Leader, author Sarah Byrn Rickman spectacularly shares the incredible true story of this gutsy woman and her fellow women pilots. WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) pilots were civilian women who stepped up and aided the U.S. Army Air Force with delivery of aircraft from the manufacturing factories to the military flight training schools, in a time when there was a severe shortage of men to fill the positions.
From the moment Betty Gillies receives the telegram announcing that her prior flying experience might qualify her to fly army training aircraft, the story is riveting. It is made even more so by the direct quotes from Betty’s personal diary, such as: “Below was fog and black stuff. Directly in front of me were these two snow-covered peaks, well over ten thousand feet, the sun coming up through the pass between them. And above it all was this sleek airplane, flying on wings of gold.” The quotes in the book take the reader right into the cockpit with Betty.
Sarah Byrn Rickman, in this carefully researched and beautifully written account, takes us on a deep dive into Betty Gillies’s experiences as a wartime ferry pilot.
Although the WAFS women were on the adventure of their lives, they faced plenty of challenges. Simultaneously, they were making history as the United States’ first women pilots serving their country in a war while also fighting for gender equality.
“The WAFS were not out to prove they could wear pants. They only wanted to prove they could fly.”
Despite many trials, these courageous women forged ahead with their missions; they proved that women pilots are equally as capable and vital to the success of the United States military as their male counterparts. They succeeded in paving the way for today’s women pilots.
The book includes a lovely dedication from the author to Pete and Glen Gillies, Betty Huyler Gillies’s son and granddaughter, whose contributions helped bring Betty’s story to reality. “A picture is worth a thousand words” accurately describes the photographs found throughout the book, as they share just as much as the story itself shares.
Also included: a delightful poem written by Betty, a list of the aircraft she flew, a glossary and acronyms of WWII aviation and military terms, Betty Gillies’s aviation timeline, and much more.
This book should, without a doubt, make its way into the hands of young readers far and wide. It is an inspiration for those wishing to embark on journeys that may seem impossible, to blaze new trails.