His new book, Seized by the Sun tells how Gertrude Tompkins (left), a shy, awkward girl who stuttered, growing up to be one of only a handful of U.S. women test pilots during WWII.
Her job was to take new or repaired planes to the sky and put them through tight turns, stalls, dives and spins making sure they were safe.
Below: P-51 Mustang fighters. Gertrude was one of only 126 WASP pilots good enough to fly these fighter planes. Her first flight in a powerful P-51 cured the debilitating stutter that had plagued her since childhood.
Author James Ure is on the blog today, telling us how he got hooked on the story.
In this fictional piece I imagined a character who learned his mother had been a woman pilot in World War II and her crashed plane and her remains had just been discovered in a melting glacier in Montana.
I put a note on what I was doing on a Women’s Air Force Pilot user group on Yahoo. The result was unexpected.
I was contacted by the grand niece of Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins. Laura Whittall-Scherfee, who lives near Sacramento, told me that of the 38 women killed in the WASP during World War II, her grand aunt was the only one still missing.
She was called, “The Other Amelia,” and a sort of cult had grown among the searchers who continue to look for her to this day. Laura and her husband Ken offered me access to the family records. Would I be interested?
Would I ever!
It took seventeen years of interviews, combing military files and reading private correspondence to finally give Tommy the fully-dimensional place in aviation history she deserved.
I was lucky to have conversations with a number of WASPs early in my research. Today only about 85 WASPs of the 1,175 who were in service during the war are still alive.
Tommy took off from Mines Air Field (now LAX) on October 26, 1944, and was expected to stay at the Army Air Force Base in Palm Springs that evening.
She was never seen again. Aircraft historian Pat Macha has conducted numerous searches over the years and no trace has ever turned up.
Below: A group of WASPs pray for luck before climbing into a BT-13 unpredictable and sometimes dangerous training plane. Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, circa 1943.
The results of searches of the bay and of the mountains and deserts on her presumed flight path are documented in Seized by the Sun. It’s a mystery yet to be solved, and there are men and women still searching for Tommy.
Thank you, Jim!
Learn more about Jim and his books at www.jimurebooks.com.