A 100% loss of first-line combat planes in the first months of fighting is expected by the U. S. Air Corps if ever its new armada flies to war.* Such appalling losses put a premium upon a vast reserve of pilots. Last week the non-military Civil Aeronautics Authority took a long step to increase that reserve: it certified 220 U. S. colleges and universities for participation in its pilot-training program, prepared to name still more to share $5,675,000 voted by Congress for schooling 11,000 new fliers this year.
C. A. A. trainees are all civilians, most are collegians. They will be taught to fly by commercial air schools, at a cost to the U. S. of $290 to $310 per student. When they graduate, they will be far from qualified as military pilots, but most of them should rate private pilots' licenses (allowing them to fly themselves and passengers for fun, do no flying for hire). But C. A. A.'s fledglings, with the rudiments of flying will be far better material for the Army and Navy air corps than total greenhorns.
One civilian flier who was highly pleased by C. A. A.'s announcement last week was a cream-&-coffee-skinned Negress of 29. There is small chance that Willa Beatrice Brown will ever fly for the Army or Navy, but as Secretary of the National (Negro) Airmen's Association and one of the few Negro aviatrices holding a limited commercial license, she has labored mightily to whip up interest in flying among Negroes, get them a share in C. A. A.'s training program. She runs Brown's Lunch Room at Harlem Airport near Chicago, is partner in a flying service there. White people are sometimes surprised when they find her piloting them on pleasure hops ($1 for 10 minutes). She hopes to get an instructor's rating in the spring, teach flying at some Negro school certified by C. A. A.
Last week C. A. A. certified two Negro schools: West Virginia State College at Institute, W. Va., whose President John Warren Davis lobbied in Washington for inclusion of Negroes in the program; and North Carolina's Agricultural & Technical College at Greensboro. If their students do as well in flying school as did 330 whites at 13 colleges which participated in experimental training classes last spring, better than 95% will be licensed, and Willa Brown's National Airmen's Association should grow apace. Of the 62,200 pilots (including students) now licensed by C. A. A. only 130 are Negroes.
*"First-line" planes would be only a small proportion of the total on hand in wartime. The rest would be in reserve, to replace losses.