Narrator: An aircraft carrier is only as good as its aircraft. Every plane and pilot that flew off Intrepid was supported by a vast network of people responsible for designing, testing, building, training, and maintaining the air group.
During World War II, women were essential to the success of Naval Aviation.
Flying on an aircraft carrier is dangerous work. Navy pilots need to know their planes are safe to fly.
Enter Grumman test pilots Elizabeth Hooker, Barbara Kibbee Jayne, and “Teddy” Kenyon.
Accomplished pilots before the war, these three women logged thousands of hours testing Grumman’s aircraft, including two planes that flew from Intrepid: the F6F Hellcat fighter and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.
Their work was dangerous. When her Hellcat caught fire at 8,000 feet, Hooker had to bail out over Long Island Sound.
The women faced other challenges, including resentment from their male colleagues and restrictions on their work.
But for Hooker, Jayne and Kenyon, flying for Grumman was exhilarating. Their strong record and media presence showed the nation that women could handle powerful military aircraft.
The Grumman test pilots were the exception, not the rule; most women involved in Naval Aviation worked firmly on the ground.
In addition to the thousands of women who worked in factories building airplanes, 23,000 women served in the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics as WAVES: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
When other branches of the Navy were reluctant to hire women, Aeronautics was eager to recruit women for skilled and technical work.
WAVES worked in many roles, including as control tower operators, aerographers, aviation machinist mates and flight simulator instructors.
The success of the WAVES in the field led the Bureau of Aeronautics to request that 5,000 women stay on after the war—paving the way for a permanent presence for women in the Navy.