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Randy Pollak
Fly Girl

The amazing story of the women pilots of World War II

By Spencer Kayden
From the May 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: to identify key ideas in the play

Lexiles: 1080L (captions)
Other Key Skills: mood, author’s craft, inference, interpreting text, text evidence, character, cause and effect, key ideas
AS YOU READ

As you read the play, study the illustrations, and read the captions, think about what challenges Margie faces as a young female pilot.

Scene 1

July 1944 ★ The Skies Over New Mexico

SD1: Margie and Nell are in the cockpit of a large military plane. 

SD2: Margie shouts over the roar of the engines. 

Margie: What time do you think we’ll reach Dallas?

SD3: Nell looks at the dials and checks her map.

Nell: At this rate, we’ll be there before sunset. 

Margie: I sure am looking forward to a hot meal. 

SD1: They look out the window. 

Nell: See those yellow and purple wildflowers? It’s like a quilt has covered the land. 

Margie: Beautiful. (suddenly alarmed ) Do you smell smoke?

SD2: Nell’s eyes dart around the plane. 

Nell: I see sparks. An engine is out!

Margie: Let’s look for a place to land. 

SD3: The other engine starts to sputter. One of the wings dips. 

SD1: Margie pulls hard at the steering lever to steady the plane. 

Nell: Margie! The other engine is on fire. We have to bail out! 

SD2: Margie unbuckles her shoulder harness. But she struggles with her seat belt.

Margie: I’m stuck! 

SD3: Smoke billows into the cockpit. 

Nell (coughing): We’re losing altitude. We have to jump now, or there won’t be time for our parachutes to open!

SD1: Nell tries to help Margie with her seat belt buckle. 

Margie: You go. Don’t wait for me! 

Nell: I can’t leave you!

Margie: There’s no sense in both of us dying!

SD2: Flames greedily devour the rear of the plane. 

Margie: Go, Nell! Go now!

SD3: Margie squeezes her eyes shut. 

Margie (whispering): Help me, Aunt Margaret.

Scene 2 

One Year Earlier ★ Wichita, Kansas

SD1: Mom enters the kitchen with a basket of freshly picked green beans. She turns on the radio. 

Edward R. Murrow (voiceover): The American, Canadian, and British troops continue to make good progress. 

SD2: Mom rinses the beans and puts them in jars.

Murrow (voiceover): The big counterattack from the Germans has not yet come. We must not underestimate the difficulty of the task ahead or the grievous losses we may suffer.

SD3: Margie runs in holding a copy of Life magazine.

Margie: Mom! Mom! Girls are flying military planes! 

SD1: Margie reads from the article. 

Margie: “Each month, scores of licensed women pilots complete their training and relieve fighting men for combat duty.” 

Mom: Well, isn’t that something. 

SD2: Dad walks in carrying a box of tin scraps. 

Dad: Anything else for the scrap bin? Our military needs all the metal it can get.

SD3: Mom hands him a few crushed cans. 

Margie: Look at this, Dad. Women pilots are ferrying and testing planes so more men can fight overseas. 

SD1: Dad turns pale. 

Margie: It says here these women “fly with skill, precision, and zest.” 

SD2: Margie looks up with bright, shining eyes.

Margie: I want to apply to the training program!

Dad: Absolutely not.

SD3: He walks out.

Margie: What was that about? 

SD1: Mother takes a book from a shelf. She pulls out an old photograph of a young woman standing next to an airplane. The woman is wearing a leather flying helmet and has a wide, beaming smile. 

Margie: Who is this? 

Mom: Your father’s sister.

Margie: Aunt Margaret? The one I’m named after? 

Mom: That’s right. Flying was her passion.

Margie: I . . . I had no idea. 

Mom: She died in a plane crash just before you were born. Your father doesn’t like to talk about it. 

SD2: Margie looks closely at the photograph. 

Margie: She looks so happy. 

Mom: Margaret had that dazzling Canfield smile, just like your father. And you.

SD3: Margie lifts her chin. 

Margie: Mom, I want to do more for the war effort than just collect cans and old rubber boots. 

Mom: Don’t you need a pilot’s license?

Margie: I can take lessons at the airport. I’ll get my license in no time. 

SD1: Margie grabs her mother’s hands. 

Margie: Please, Mom. I can do this. 

SD2: Mom smiles hesitantly. 

Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

ON THE HOME FRONT

During World War II, many men went overseas to fight. Millions of women stepped in to fill their jobs. They joined the workforce in positions never available to them before. They became shipbuilders, welders, and engineers. Meanwhile, children collected rubber and metal that could be used for building tanks, ships, and planes. Scrap drives (pictured here) were common school events.

Scene 3 

September 1943 ★ Sweetwater, Texas

SD3: Margie stands in the hot sun with 100 other young women. The air is full of swirling dust and sand.

Jackie Cochran: You are all here because youwant to be WASPs—Women Airforce Service Pilots. This six-month training program is rigorous. Many of you will wash out. 

SD1: A woman leans over to Margie. 

Nell (whispering): Gee, thanks for the encouragement. 

Cochran: Your ground training will include meteorology, math, Morse code, map reading, mechanics, and more.

Nell (whispering): But only things that begin with m

SD2: Margie laughs quietly.

Cochran: Your flight instructors will ensure you are proficient in flying every type of aircraft. Now, there are men out there who think you can’t do it. Well, I’m here to tell you that if you work hard, you can.

Crowd: Woooo!

Cochran: Now get your barracks assignments. Then be on the field at fourteen hundred hours for physical fitness. 

SD3: Margie turns to Nell.

Margie: How long have you been flying? 

Nell: Six years. I’m an instructor in Michigan. You?

Margie (nervously): I just got my license. 

Nell: Stick with me. You’ll be all right. 

United States Air Force Museum

THE MISSION

The main purpose of the WASP program was to transport planes from factories to military bases, freeing up male pilots for combat duty. (Women were not permitted in combat at the time.) More than 25,000 female pilots applied to the grueling WASP training program. Fewer than 2,000 were accepted, and only 1,074 made it through.

Scene 4

January 1944 ★ Sweetwater, Texas

SD1: Margie and the other trainees are wearing oversized jumpsuits. 

Betty: Are we ever going to get flight suits that fit us?

Margie: Not likely. The Army never expected women to be flying their planes. 

SD2: Nell comes over carrying two pillows. 

Betty: What are you doing with those?

Nell: I have to sit on them or I can’t see out the window of the cockpit. 

Betty: How did you pass the height requirement?

Nell: I stood on my tiptoes!

SD3: An instructor comes over.

Instructor: Canfield! You’re with me today. We’re going up in the BT-13. This plane is big, heavy, and fast. Sure you can handle it, little lady?

SD1: Margie clenches her jaw and grabs her flight gear. 

Margie (under her breath): Yes, this little lady can handle it.

SD2: When they reach the plane, Margie walks up the wing and hops into the front seat. The instructor sits behind her with separate controls.

Margie: Checking instruments, flaps, and throttle. Starter switch to “Engage.”

SD3: The plane rumbles to life.

Margie: 7781 to Control Tower. Permission to take off.

Control Tower: 7781, you are cleared for takeoff. 

SD1: The plane accelerates and climbs into the air. 

Margie :I feel like I’m being shaken inside a can full of pennies!

Instructor: Not every plane you fly is going to be a dream. You need to be able to handle anything and everything. Now give me some spins and figure eights. 

SD2: Margie dives. The plane jerks to the side. The instructor grabs the controls. 

Instructor: Easy! 

SD3: Margie shakes her head. 

Instructor: Your spins stink, Canfield! You need a lot of practice, but you’ll get there.   

Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Pilot training, July 1943

Scene 5 

March 1944 ★ Sweetwater, Texas

SD1: Margie and the other pilots gather for graduation. 

SD2: General Arnold addresses the graduates and their families. 

General Arnold: At first, I was skeptical. Could a young woman handle the controls of a fighter plane in heavy weather? But now I know the answer is yes. 

Crowd: Hear, hear! 

Arnold: The WASPs are doing vitaljobs. They fly airplanes to bases for repairs. They run target- practice drills. They test new and recently repaired planes. The WASPs are helping us win the war. We are proud of you, and the Army Air Force welcomes you! 

Crowd: Hooray!

SD3: Margie finds her mother in the crowd. As they hug, Margie looks over her mom’s shoulder.

Margie: Dad didn’t come? 

Mom: He just . . . couldn’t, honey. 

Margie: Being a pilot has taught me that I can’t live my life in fear. If I never take any risks, I’ll never grow into the person I know I can be. I wish Dad could understand that.

SD1: Mom pulls the old photograph of Aunt Margaret from her purse. 

Mom: Here. Keep this with you. It will make me feel better knowing she’s with you in the air. And Dad too, I suspect.

SD2: Margie tucks the photo into her shirt pocket.

Margie: She’ll keep me safe.

Scene 6 

April 1944 ★ Wichita and Dallas

SD3: Mom sits on the porch reading a letter from Margie. Dad stands behind her, listening.

Mom (reading): Dear Mom and Dad, Nell and I were both assigned to Love Field in Dallas. 

SD1: On the other side of the stage, Margie stands in line with other pilots, male and female. 

Mom (reading): We get up at 5 a.m., report to the flight line, then fly for several hours. Three of us ride as passengers while a fourth is piloting. 

SD2: On the other side of the stage, Margie approaches a plane and starts to climb into the cockpit. Two male pilots behind her don’t budge.

Mom (reading): Yesterday, two male pilots refused to ride with me. They said they would not put their lives in the hands of someone who should be at home cooking and sewing. 

SD3: Dad sits down next to Mom.

Mom(reading): There was rough air. I think those male pilots were disappointed that I didn’t throw up. 

SD1: Margie climbs out of the plane and flashes a smile. 

Mom (reading): Tomorrow is my first ferrying assignment. I’m picking up a B-25 from the manufacturer in California and flying it to a base so it can go overseas. I can’t tell you where. That’s top secret!

SD2: Dad puts his arm around Mom and smiles.

Dad: She reminds me of her, you know.

Mom: I know she does.

Bettmann/Getty Images

MAKING HISTORY

Before Jackie Cochran (pictured here) became head of the WASP program, she was a famous pilot known for winning races and setting flying records. Even today, 38 years after her death, Cochran holds more speed, distance, and altitude records than any male or female pilot in aviation history.

Scene 7 

May 1944 ★ Dallas, Texas

SD3: Margie and Nell lie exhausted in their beds. 

Nell (sleepily): I’m going to try to get some sleep. We have to be back in the air in a couple hours. 

SD1: Margie tosses and turns.

Margie: Did you hear that rotten captain? He said women pilots are as expendableas the planes.

Nell (yawning): He just doesn’t want to admit that we can fly as well as men.

Margie: And that article in the paper referred to us as the Lipstick Squadron. It makes me steaming mad!

Nell: Get some rest, Margie.

Margie: Doesn’t it ruffle your feathers? I know we’re not in combat, but we’re risking our lives too. Literally. Did you hear there was another accident at Camp Davis?

SD2: Nell sits up.

Nell: What happened? 

Margie: A malfunction caused the plane to flip when it was landing. The pilot was crushed. 

Nell: How awful. 

Margie: That’s not going to happen to us, is it? 

Nell: Not if I can help it.

Scene 8 

July 1944 ★ The Skies Over New Mexico

SD3: We are back at the scene from the beginning. Fire engulfs the back of the plane.

Nell: I’m sorry, Margie!

SD1: Nell jumps out of the plane. 

SD2: Margie is alone, coughing in the thickening smoke. She tugs frantically at her seat belt.

Margie: Help me, Aunt Margaret.

SD3: She presses her hands against her shirt pocket. Suddenly, the buckle comes loose. 

SD1: Margie scrambles out of the cockpit and jumps.

Official White House photo/Pete Souza

AFTER THE WAR

As men returned from the war in late 1944, the WASP program was shut down. Though the women pilots played an important role, they were not considered an official part of the military. It wasn’t until 1977 that the WASPs were granted military status and officially recognized for their contribution. In 2010, President Barack Obama (above) signed a bill allowing Congress to award the WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal.

Scene 9 

The Next Day ★ Carlsbad, New Mexico

SD2: Margie lies in a cot in an Army hospital. 

SD3: She opens her eyes and sees her mother and father.

Margie (groggily): Where am I?

Mom: New Mexico.

Margie: How did you get here? 

Dad: We drove all night. 

Margie: Nell! Where’s Nell?

SD1: Margie tries to sit up and winces. She notices a bandage around her arm.

Mom: Nell is OK. Worried about you, though. You had a hard landing. 

Margie: What about the plane? 

Dad: It crashed into a field. 

Mom: Scared some cows, but nobody was hurt. 

Dad: The inspectors think the engines were faulty. 

SD2: Tears well up in Dad’s eyes. 

Dad: You’re lucky to be alive. 

SD3: Margie reaches out for his hand. She feels a thin rope in his palm.

Margie: What’s this? 

Dad: The rip cordfrom your parachute. It was clenched in your hand when they found you. 

Margie: I’m sorry to put you through this, Dad. 

Dad: Oh, Margie, you have nothing to be sorry about. You just remind me so much of your Aunt Margaret. Her grit and determination, her audacious sense of adventure—I see those things in you. 

SD1: Margie beams. 

Mom: And that Canfield smile. 

SD2: Dad brushes Margie’s hair out of her eyes. 

Dad: Promise me that you’ll hold on to your dreams as tightly as you held on to that rip cord. 

Margie: I promise, Dad. Now . . . where’s the doctor? I need to get back in the cockpit.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ

2. READING AND DISCUSSING (30 minutes)

3. SKILL BUILDING

Differentiated Writing Prompts
For Struggling Readers

Identify a character trait that Margie displays throughout the play. In a well-organized paragraph, explain how she demonstrates that trait, giving at least two examples.

For Advanced Readers

Do research to identify a real-life WASP and write a one-act play about how and why she became a WASP and what she experienced in that role.

CUSTOMIZED PERFORMANCE TASKS
For Creative Writers

Write an open letter, in Margie’s voice, to the male pilots who refused to fly with her. Explain how it feels not to be taken seriously and why female pilots deserve respect and admiration.

For Historians

Create a timeline of the WASP program. Include events in the play’s captions, and do research to find other important dates.

Literature Connection: Other texts about women’s struggle for equality

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone (nonfiction)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate 
by Jaqueline Kelly (novel) 

“The Struggle for Human Rights"
by Eleanor Roosevelt (speech)