Monterey Bay Ninety-Nines
"Why are you flying around the world?" Amelia responded, "I want to."
While taking a journalism class in high school, she used her initiative to obtain an interview with Amelia Earhart. Earhart was at the Oakland Airport preparing for her around the world flight. Gene and her friend skirted around airport security, borrowed a camera, and by announcing that they were "The Press" managed to gain entrance into hanger #4 which contained the Electra II and Amelia Earhart. Gene's question to Amelia was, "Why are you flying around the world?" Amelia responded, "I want to." Oakland Airport was chosen as the departure point for this historic trip because it is 200 miles closer to Honolulu than any other air field on the West coast.
Gene sidestepped her mother's criticisms of her un-lady like conduct by taking lessons from Robert Donovan, in 1943, at Reno Sky Ranch. (Ladies did not fly airplanes). The lessons were taken in Reno because of civil flight restrictions along the coast of California during World War II.
In August, 1943, Gene joined the Civil Service Program and trained to become a test pilot, ferry pilot and flight instructor at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. She graduated in February 1944, receiving her wings to become a Women Air Force Service Pilot (WASP). There were 105 trainees enrolled in her class and 48 earned their wings.
During training she flew the PT-19 Fairchild with 175 HP, PT-17 Stearman, Vultee BT-13 with 450 HP, North American AT-6 with 650 HP. After graduation she also flew the B-18 and the Douglas DC-3, also called the Gooney Bird.
Gene's first assignment was to Gardner Field, Taft, CA., a basic flight training school, as a test pilot. Her next assignment was to Randolph Field, "The West Point of the Air" where she trained to become a Basic Flight Instructor in the BT-13. Gene then attended the required Officer's Training Program at Orlando, Florida.
In August 1944 the Army Air Corp was changed to the U.S. Air Force, and although the WASP's were still in the Civil Service, they were attached to the AAC and Air Force and all received an Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Air Force.
When Gene left the Air Force she had accumulated approximately 500 hours of flying time. She did not fly again for the next 20 years while raising her family. Then in 1967, she reactivated her flight instructor's license at Rose Aviation located on Hawthorne field in Los Angeles.
Women Air Force Service Pilot
While the war was on in 1942, Nancy Love enlisted women pilots with over 500 flight hours to start ferrying aircraft from factory to port's of embarkation. Jackie Cochran, who at this time, did not know about this event was recruiting with their Air Transport Command, as our government was showing no interest. Then, Jackie received a dinner invitation to the White House. Over dinner Jackie had the opportunity to sit next to Eleanor Roosevelt, and asked her if she would like to go flying. They quietly slipped out and Jackie took Mrs. Roosevelt on her first night flight over Washington DC in 1943. Quite impressed with the experience, Mrs. Roosevelt succeeded in convincing her husband of the benefits of having women participate in ferrying aircraft for the United States.
Gene instructed her daughter Kay at Rose Aviation where Kay received her private pilots license on her 17th birthday, May 4, 1969. Together they flew in the Air Race Classic the following June.
The Air Race Classic ran from San Diego to Dulles National Airport in Washington, D.C. The festivities at the terminus included a "tea" honoring the women pilots at the White House, hosted by Pat and Trisha Nixon. Special congratulations were extended to the mother/ daughter team of Gene and Kay by the First Lady, Mrs. Pat Nixon.
So, with the help of General Hap Arnold, Jackie Cochran started the WASP program with the full approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt creating a place in history for Gene and other women pilots during World War II.
CIVIL AIR PATROL
Gene joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in 1981 in Torrance and was with them until she moved to Monterey in 1984. She subsequently joined the Watsonville Squadron and was asked to start a new CAP squadron in Monterey. The Monterey Bay Squadron #60 still meets at the Monterey Airport. Besides serving as a Major, she also a checked pilot for the squadron and any other CAP personnel who need check rides. Missions included Search and Rescue, live organ transport, counter narcotic surveillance, and transport of dog teams.
Gene was a member of Salinas Owners and Pilots Association (SOPA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Civil Air Patrol and the Monterey Bay Ninety-Nines.