Tag Archives: Ann Gilpin Baumgartner

14 October 1944

Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, circa 1944. (National Air and Space Museum)

14 October 1944: Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) assigned as Assistant Operations Officer of the Fighter Section, Flight Test Division, at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, made an evaluation flight of the Bell YP-59A Airacomet, becoming the first woman to fly a turbojet-propelled airplane.

The Airacomet was designed and built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation as an interceptor, powered by two turbojet engines. There were three XP-59A prototypes. The first one flew at Muroc Army Airfield on 1 October 1942. The Army Air Corps had ordered thirteen YP-59A service test aircraft. The first of these flew in August 1943 at Muroc.

The Bell YP-59A was conventional single place airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the control surfaces were fabric-covered. Its dimensions differed slightly from the XP-59A, having shorter wings with squared of tips, and a shorter, squared, vertical fin. There were various other minor changes, but the exact specifications of the YP-59As are uncertain.

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

The primary difference, though, was the change from the General Electric I-A turbojet to the I-16 (later designated J31-GE-1). Both were reverse-flown engines using a single-stage centrifugal compressor and a single-stage turbine. The I-16 produced 1,610 pounds of thrust (7.16 kilonewtons). They were 6 feet, 0 inches long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches in diameter and weigh 865 pounds (392 kilograms),

Even with the two I-16s producing 720 pounds of thrust (3.20 kilonewtons) more than the the XP-59A’s I-A engines, the YP-59A’s performance did not improve. Engineers had a lot to learn about turbojeft engine inlet design.

The YP-59A had a maximum speed of 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and its service ceiling was 43,200 feet (13,167 meters).

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-59 was ordered into production and Bell Aircraft Corporation built thirty P-59A and twenty P-59B fighters. These were armed with one M4 37mm autocannon with 44 rounds of ammunition and three Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 200 rounds per gun.

Although a YP-59A had set an unofficial altitude record of 47,600 feet (14,508 meters), the Airacomet was so outclassed by standard production fighters that no more were ordered.

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
Ann G. Baumgartner stands on the wing of a North American Aviation T-6 Texan. (U.S. Air Force)

Ann Gilpin Baumgartner was born 27 Aug 1918, at the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Gordon, Augusta, Georgia. She was the daughter of Edgar F. Baumgartner, engineer and patent attorney, and Margaret L. Gilpin-Brown Baumgartner. After graduating from Walnut Hill High School, Natick, Massachussetts, she studied pre-med at Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts. She played soccer and was on the swimming team. She graduated in 1939.

Miss Baumgartner worked as a reporter for The New York Times. She took flying lessons at Somerset Hills Airport, Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and soloed after only eight hours. She then bought  Piper Cub to gain flight experience.

Ann G. Baumgartner, WASP Class 43-W-3. (U.S. Air Force)

After being interviewed by Jackie Cochran, Baumgartner joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) 23 March 1943, a member of Class 43-W-3, graduating 11 September 1943 with Class 43-W-5. She was then assigned to Camp Davis Army Airfield, Holly Ridge, North Carolina, where she towed targets for anti-aircraft artillery training.

Miss Baumgartner  was transferred to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio (now, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), where she flew the B-24 Liberator and B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers, P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, YP-59A Airacomet, P-82 Twin Mustang fighters, and the Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 medium bomber.

While at Wright Field, Miss Baumgartner met Major William Price Carl, who was an engineer associated with the P-82. They were married 2 May 1945, and would have two children.

Miss Baumgartner was released from service 20 December 1944, when the WASPs were disbanded. Following World War II, she was employed as an instrument flight instructor for United Air Lines.

After they retired, Mr. and Mrs. Carl sailed the Atlantic Ocean aboard their sailboat, Audacious.

Mrs. Carl was the author of A WASP Among Eagles and The Small World of Long-Distance Sailors.

Ann Gilpin Baumgartner Carl died at Kilmarnock, Virginia, 20 March 2008, at the age of 89 years. She and her husband, who had died one month earlier, were buried at sea.

Mrs. Ann Baumgartner Carl (1918–2008)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

5 August 1943: Women Airforce Service Pilots

Test pilots were not always men. These four women, members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), were assigned as engineering test pilots, testing new aircraft and modifications. The airplane behind them is a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber. From left to right, Dorothy Dodd Eppstein, Hellen Skjersaa Hansen, Doris Burmeister Nathan and Elizabeth V. Chadwick Dressler. (U.S. Air Force)

5 August 1943: The U.S. Army Air Forces’ Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) under the direction of Nancy Harkeness Love, and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, led by Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran, are combined to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold assigned Jackie Cochran as the Director. Nancy Love was named executive for WASP ferrying operations.

Cochran, Jacqueline (“Jackie”), Director, Women Airforce Service Pilots. (National Archives and Records Administration 4A-23096-K1210)

Cochran had previously served as a Flight Captain with the Royal Air Force Air Transport Auxiliary. After a period of six months, she had returned to the United States at the request of General Arnold, where she served on his staff. In June 1942, she became the first first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean when she ferried a Lockheed Hudson from Canada to Scotland.

Nancy Harkness Love in WASP uniform. The shoulder insignia are those of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. (Texas Woman’s University Women Airforce Service Pilots – Official Archive, BornDigital.HOMalone.3)

WASP recruits had to be between 21 and 35 years old, in good health, be a high school graduate, and have a pilot’s license with a minimum of 200 hours flight time. The WASPs received more than 25,000 applications. Of these, 1,879 were accepted. They received four months of military flight training at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. Their training was essentially the same primary, basic and advanced training as Army Air Forces pilots. On graduation they received a commercial pilot certificate. 1,074 graduated from training.

WASP pilots were not military personnel. They were civil service employees of the federal government. Trainees were paid $150 per month, and graduates, $250. They received a allowance of $6 per day when away from their assigned base. The women were required to pay for their quarters and meals.

Women Airforce Service Pilots dress uniform. (National Air and Space Museum)

WASP dress uniforms consisted of a jacket and skirt of Santiago Blue wool, two-ply gabardine, and a beret made of the same material. They wore a white shirt with a black tie. Insignia were gold-colored.

WASP pilots Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborne at the four-engine school at Lockbourne Army Airfield, Ohio, with a Boeing B-17. (U.S. Air Force)

WASPs ferried aircraft from the manufacturers’ factories to military bases, towed targets, and flew airplanes for training bombardiers and navigators. More than 100 of the women, on graduation, were sent directly to a nine-week transition training course on the Martin B-26 Marauder twin-engine medium bomber, and airplane with a reputation of being difficult to fly.

Four members of the United States Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) receive final instructions as they chart a cross-country course on the flight line of U.S. airport. Assigned to the ferrying division of the United States Army Air Transport Command, the women pilots belong to the first class of American women to complete a rigorous nine-week transitional flight training course in handling B-26 Marauder medium bombers. They have been given special assignments with the U.S. Army Air Forces as tow target pilots. (National Archives and Records Administration NARA-535781)
WASP Ruth Ellen Dailey with a Lockheed P-38 Lightning. (U.S. Air Force)
Florene Miller, one of the original members of Nancy Love’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, preparing a North American Aviation P-51D Mustang for a ferry flight from the factory at Inglewood, California. (U.S. Air Force)

They ferried P-38 Lightnings, P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs, B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-25 Mitchells, and many other types. Some were involved in testing newly-built aircraft, and few served as test pilots at Wright Field, where one, Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, flew the Bell XP-59A Airacomet. Two WASPS, Dora Jean Dougherty and Dorothea Johnson Moorman, were trained to fly the B-29 Superfortress. During the war, 38 WASPs died in service.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets with WASP pilots Dorothea Johnson Moorman and Dora Jean Dougherty, at Eglin Field, June 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

As the need for combat pilots lessened in the latter part of World War II, Army Air Forces pilots began to take over the flights that had been assigned to WASPs. The Women Airforce Service Pilots were disbanded 20 December 1944.

After the U.S. Air Force became a separate military service in 1947, Jackie Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love were given commissions as lieutenant colonels, United States Air Force Reserve.

WASP pilot’s wings

© Bryan R. Swopes, 2023