Review: The Women with Silver Wings

The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Katherine Sharp Landdeck

Crown Publishing, 2020. Hardcover, 448 pages.

Landdeck presents the first full-scale history of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) written for broad appeal in decades. Starting with the air races of the 1930s, readers will see that the women pilots faced struggled their male counterparts did not and understand the love of flying these women had and their determination to make their way into the air. The section also begins with introductions to the women who made the WASPs possible, Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Love, and their fight to have this unit created.

The bulk of the middle of the work detailed the formation of the WASP program, their training, and their wartime work. This included not only the details of the training program itself, but also the lives of the profiled women who trained, and the social life the women had during their time in the program.  Highlights include how the women showed the men they could fly the planes they were apprehensive about (B-26 and B-29), how the women organized a WASP newsletter, and how the women worked alongside the men in the Aerial Transport Service. 

The final segment of the narrative tells of the lives of the women after the WASP program was disbanded. Some struggled to find aviation or war work while others settled back at home with family.  In later years, they would gather for reunions, reinstate their newsletter, and fought for rights they had been denied, complete with surprising allies.

Landdeck presents a start to finish history of the WASPs, from the beginnings of the women crucial to its formation until the last of the featured women passed. The start of the narrative, which told of the women who participated in the pre-war air races reminded me of Keith O’Brien’s Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History. Stories of the war years that were true in this work had been reimagined in fiction in Sherry Smith’s Flygirl  and Natalie Salazar’s The Flight Girls. Shown throughout are the struggles the women faced their male counterparts did not, ranging from attempts to restrict flights to not being considered official military to having to fight for veteran status decades later. Also strongly depicted was just how close the women were tied together, not just during the training and war years, but also after.  As a whole, this is the first broad history of the WASPs in decades and it addresses topics previous books I’ve read had not as they focused on just the war years with only hints of what came before and after.

This review is based on the print version of the book.

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