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Dailey leaves the wagon wheels of the Calder series to take to the air in this aviation novel: a comrade-in-arms tribute to the band of civilian female pilots who for a too-brief period (1942-43) performed valiantly for the military as WASPs (Women's Airforce Service Pilots), under the leadership of cosmetics-queen Jacqueline Cochran and USAF chief General ""Hap"" Arnold. And, following the male WW II-movie format, Dailey tracks the fortunes of a cinematically assorted crew of servicewomen. The Boy-from-Brooklyn type here is ragged-but-right Marry Rogers from Detroit; the upper cruster is Eden van Valkenburgh, who makes the mink-to-Government-Issue adjustment à la Pvt. Benjamin; the sweet innocent is Mary Lynn Palmer, married to overseas pilot Beau; the all-rounder is ""Cappy"" Hayward, army brat and only child of the Army's Major Hayward; and of course there's Rachel Goldman, a silent but tough, cookie from the Lower East Side. During the 26 weeks of training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, the women get both sneers and hard work from the civilian male instructors; they loam to fly many varieties of army planes; they pal-up, exchanging stories of stumbling blocks thrown in their way. (Their families are appalled by female determination to fly unfriendly, male-dominated skies.) But some agreeable men do hove into view, and yes, there is love after wings. Mary pines after Beau--and is faithful until pursued by burned-out pilot Walker, who's curiously mesmerizing. Eden likes old suitor Hamilton Steele but is drawn to Bubba Jackson, a mechanic much beneath her station. Cappy fights suitor Major Miter Rogers all the way--especially when she discovers that he's arranged a ""safe"" berth in Washington; Marty has some jolly brief encounters. And along the way there's real danger: a first assignment in which the women tow targets for gunnery practice (a task disliked and feared by male pilots); a fatal flight for Rachel. Eventually, however, the remaining friends will be ferrying planes here and there across the continent, from fast ""pursuits"" to B-17s--so, despite skepticism and downright injustice, the WASPs are a success. . . until pressure from male civilian pilots and congressional edginess bring an end to it all. Intriguingly researched, with zesty cameos by military biggles: an easy-read salute to the gals in coats of ""Santiago blue,"" solidly entertaining even when a little clichÉd or anachronistic in its Women's Lib slant.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 1984
ISBN: 1416588841
Publisher: Poseidon/Pocket Books--dist. by Simon & Schuster