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Women Who Dared: American Female Test Pilots, Flight-Test Engineers, and Astronauts, 1912;1996, by Lt. Col. Yvonne C. Pateman, U.S. Air Force (ret.), Norstahr Publishing, Calif., 1997, $29.95

Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne C. Pateman has written an excellent history of some of America’s most talented female pilots. Women Who Dared is a close look at the pioneering women who have specialized in flight testing and flight research during the past eight decades.

Pateman reminds us that in the years before 1940, most Americans did not believe that women were capable of flying an airplane. Those intrepid few who hopped in a plane anyway not only faced the normal risks associated with flying machines but also had to prove that women could be competent pilots. Probably everyone who piloted an airplane in the early years of heavier-than-air flight should be considered a “test” pilot.

Then came World War II. Grumman hired three women as “real” test pilots. Some women of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) were also assigned to flight-test positions. WASP Ann Baumgartner Carl, who was assigned to Wright Field, even flight-tested the Bell YP-59, America’s first jet fighter. With hundreds of women pilots and hundreds of thousands of women working in aviation, the question after the war was no longer could women fly but should they. This debate profoundly shaped the experiences of women who wanted to pursue one of the most demanding aerospace occupations in the postwar period.

Women Who Dared is not a dull or pedantic text. The reader will chuckle at the anecdotes included, such as the story of the air traffic controller who spotted an “unmanned” aircraft in the pattern. The women described in Pateman’s book frequently used humor to defuse the difficult or awkward situations that were often triggered by prejudice (as well as more serious forms of sex discrimination).

Pateman was a WASP and a test pilot during World War II. Recalled to active duty in 1951, she served in the U.S. Air Force for two more decades, including a tour in Vietnam.

She knows how to tell a good story and deftly weaves into the text vignettes about the most important and interesting women test pilots, flight-test engineers and astronauts (most of whom she is personally acquainted with). Women Who Dared is a good introduction to the subject of women as test and engineering pilots. It is a short volume with numerous illustrations, and readers should be able to find many of the books listed in the bibliography in any good public library. Young or old, readers will be fascinated by the pioneers Pateman writes about in this welcome new book on women in aviation.