Robert Ramspeck is a sober, studious Congressman with an affable air which hides a bulldog's tenacity. As chairman of the powerful House Civil Service Committee, he recently took a look at a bill which another smiling, stubborn man, General Henry Harley Arnold, has been trying to shove through Congress. What he saw made Bob Ramspeck clamp his teeth on his pipe stem.
The bill would make the Women's Air-force Service Pilots a part of "Hap" Arnold's Army Air Forces. It would expand the whole WASP program to train and commission more women pilots. The bill would also give colonel's rank to handsome, energetic Jacqueline Cochran, now chief of the WASPs, and one of the ablest of U.S. airwomen.
Ramspeck and his committee went ferreting. They found out that the WASPs, earnest, hard-working and rule-abiding, are nevertheless an expensive experiment. Minimum cost of complete training for a WASP is $20,000not $12,150, as the War Department once estimated. Of 1,313 women who have gone to WASP training schools, only 541 have graduated; 281 have flunked out; the rest are still in training. Only three WASPs (all of whom were seasoned pilots before they joined) are qualified to fly four-engine bombers. Nineteen WASPs have been killed, eleven in operational flights after graduation.
Wasted Manpower. Hap Arnold's argument has been that there is a serious aviation manpower shortage; the A.A.F. could use 2,000 to 2,500 WASPs. From unhappy C.A.A. flying instructors and C.A.A.-trained personnel came another story. They say they have found no place for their talents since the curtailment of the A.A.F. training program. They are available to ferry planes by the thousands. General Arnold waved their claims away, held fast for his WASPs.
The Ramspeck Committee used A.A.F. figures to support the men's pleas, found that they are a sizable groupsome 6,000 instructors alonewho could be trained for the work the WASPs are doing in about half the time and at half the cost.
Furthermore, the A.A.F. could utilize its returned combat pilots, as the Navy does, for noncombat flying. If a manpower deficit really exists, the committee found, it is "due largely to a failure to . . . utilize existing personnel."
Startling and Invalid. Said the report acidly: the need "to recruit teen-aged schoolgirls, stenographers, clerks, beauticians, housewives and factory workers to pilot the military planes of this Government is as startling as it is invalid"; the militarization of Cochran's WASPs is not necessary or desirable; the present program should be immediately and sharply curtailed.
Jackie Cochran maintained an anxious silence while Hap Arnold talked on. The committee kept its report in its desk. Ramspeck had not decided whether to release it officially or let the cold facts come out in debate when Cochran's WASPs are tossed onto the House floor.