Magnolia historian served as a dispatcher
As American men were sent into combat during World War II, a shortage of military and civilian airplane pilots highlighted the need for pilot training programs across the nation. Although such programs had been advanced before the war, the pilot shortage in the early 1940s was so severe that at one point the Army recommended the grounding of all private flights. Instead, Congress expanded the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which by 1944 trained almost 500,000 men and women to fly aircraft of all varieties.
Pilots were usually college or university students and were trained by instructors at private flight schools, such as Aviation Enterprises at Houston Municipal Airport, now Hobby Airport. After the American entry into the war in late 1941, the CPTP became the War Training Service, and pupils were required to sign a contract obligating them to military service after the completion of their training.
Magnolia historian Celeste Graves served as a dispatcher for Aviation Enterprises, first briefly at Easterwood Field in College Station, and then in Houston.
“The students were mostly college boys training the ‘Navy Way’ to prepare for entry into the Navy,” she said. “But they came from all walks of life. One of the students worked on a flight line and gassed planes in order to pay for his flying time.”
Additionally, the military began a program to train female pilots, known as the AAFWFTD, Army Air Force Women’s Flight Training Detachment.
“I had been about the only woman at the airport before they started training. The women flew Army planes, but they lacked the status, pension or perks that the men had,” said Graves, who wrote “A View from the Doghouse: of the 319th AAFWFTD” about her experience observing the first three classes of women pilots in training. “It was exciting to work with them.”
While there was only one fatal accident while the WASPs trained at Houston, 10 trainees also perished while flying out of Avenger Field in Sweetwater. An additional 27 women aviators gave their lives in active service across the nation before the program ended in 1944. In the mid-1970s, a movement led by Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona succeeded in attaining recognition of full military status for WASP pilots.
On Oct. 27–28, Graves will be at the annual Wings Over Houston Airshow at Ellington Field in Houston. She will participate in the “Legends & Heroes Tent,” along with other noteworthy aviators and soldiers, including CPTP veteran Colonel “Bud” Anderson – a “triple ace” during World War II, and A.J. High, the first pilot to land at Houston Intercontinental Airport.
More about the Civilian Pilot Training Program
The Tuskegee Institute was one of more than 1,000 colleges and universities that participated in the CPTP. Along with other historically black institutions like Howard University, the Tuskegee Institute trained black men to be pilots and officers in the Army Air Force.
Many notable pilots trained in the CPTP, including future astronaut and senator John Glenn; former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern; leading American World War II ace Richard Bong; and leading Navy ace Alexander Vraciu.
There were few women instructors in the CPTP, but Opal Kunz, an aviatrix who raced airplanes before the war, instructed about 400 male pilots at Rhode Island State Airport during World War II.