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"Of course, the ideal was to stay out as long we could so we'd get more flying time." (Video Interview, 44:04)

   Catherine Vail Bridge
Collection image
[Detail] Catherine Vail Bridge standing in front of an airplane [January 1945]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots)
Unit: 5th Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command (ATC)
Service Location: Texas; California
Rank: First Lieutenant
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Catherine Vail got her first taste for flying on a teen date with a boyfriend, who had a pilot take them for a ride in a small plane. In college at Berkeley, California, she signed up for the Civilian Pilot Training Program and obtained her pilot's license. When aviator Jacqueline Cochran began forming the group that would be come the WASP, Vail interviewed with her and was hired as her personal secretary. Cochran would make an exception for Vail and other young pilots with less than the required flying time, and Vail became a member of the second class of WASP to graduate. She flew over 1000 hours, doing ferrying work all over the U.S., while her husband, whom she married in June 1944, served as a pilot in the Pacific Theater. She admits her life's biggest disappointment came when the WASP were deactivated in December 1944, with so much experience behind them and so much still to offer to the war effort.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (59 min.)
»Photo Album  (3 photos)
»Untitled memoir
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»Wings of War
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Interest in flying began when a boyfriend took her on a flying date; when she had a chance to learn how, in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, she took advantage of it; joined flying club in college; got her license before Pearl Harbor. (02:19) Father wired her from Washington, where he was doing war work, about Jacqueline Cochran recruiting pilots; got an interview with Cochran but did not have enough hours flying time; Cochran hired her as private secretary; worked in Ft. Worth; giving credit to Nancy Love for her work with women pilots; Cochran, with her political contacts, was given command of the new WASP program; lowered the requirements from 500 hours to 200. (04:07) Women went through same cadet training program as men did; transition from secretary to WASP; in the second class of WASP; WAFs, Nancy Love's group of ferrying pilots; talks about planes she trained on. (02:37)
Waiting on the flight line in the heat of Houston, where they were training; hurt her leg one day running away from a prank she'd pulled; laid up with the injury; her colleagues helped to get her to and from the plane, which she was able to fly and maintain her status. (02:34) First assignment was in Dallas, at Love Field; followed WAFs as flight leaders on cross-country flights; losing a map in mid-flight; getting nicer planes to fly as she gained experience; engine stopping over an airport in Denver; no radio; landed the plane without power but couldn't taxi to the terminal. (02:25) Getting orders to ferry planes; flying with guns to protect aircraft with special equipment; ferrying Navy planes for tow targets; having a hydraulics problem on one flight, losing her brakes; burning off fuel; landing and then stopping the plane without tipping over or even blowing a tire. (05:16)
How they would get a return flight back from a ferrying mission; had priority seating on commercial flights, took trains, hitched rides on military craft; flying to Great Falls, Montana, but not beyond to Alaska; the excuse was there weren't quarters there for women, but there were nurses stationed there; Russian pilots flew B-25s into Russia and China; preferred flying smaller planes like the Mustang; larger aircraft was "like flying a barn." (03:06) Had good experiences with men while serving; only one retraining pilot she encountered did not like to be instructed by women; most men respected their experience. (00:33) 

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  October 26, 2011
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