Mary Zerbel Hooper Ford
I began my flying career via the
Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) in 1939 at the University of
California at Los Angeles, being one of three women out of the total
of thirty pilot trainees.
I found out about ATA first from my fiancé, Roy Wesley Hooper,
an American in the Royal Air Force Coastal Command, who was already
in England (he went over in August of 1941). I tried to "enlist"
then, but our State Department refused to issue me a passport unless
it was an emergency. When Pearl Harbor occurred - or rather, after Pearl
Harbor - I heard that Jackie Cochran was recruiting female pilots for
ATA, having gotten permission from the British to do so. She was looking
fro twenty-five pilots as a test group to prove to our chauvinistic
Air Force that women most certainly could fly military aircraft!
Jackie Cochran interviewed me at her ranch in a town (Indio, CA) just
outside of Palm Spring, CA.
I took my flight check in Montreal on a T-6 Harvard between April and
June of 1942. They had two T-6's, but one seemed to always be unserviceable,
so our group to be checked out was there for six weeks! We had a marvelous
In Canada, our group stayed at the Mount Royal Hotel for the first few
weeks, then decamped to a less expensive rooming house nearby for the
rest of the six weeks.
We embarked from St. John, New Brunswick on a small Norwegian fruit
boat - 3000 tons - and went in convoy from there to Halifax, Nova Scotia,
then went on alone from there, as the chief engineer told the convoy
leader that going so slowly would ruin his engines. The captain was
the youngest captain in the Norwegian Merchant Marine; the radio operator
was a Canadian girl, and they were married upon returning home to Canada
after delivering us safely to Liverpool in around nine days.
We saw no submarine activity. We did, however, see a floating mine in
the fog one day. The ship's gunner attempted to hit it with a machine
gun, but fortunately missed, or we probably would never have arrived
in Liverpool, or anywhere else for that matter. We would have been blown
out of the water. We arrived in Liverpool the last of June 1942.
We arrived in London before going to White Waltham. Jackie Cochran met
us at Liverpool, I think, although I don't remember how we got from
Liverpool to London.
While in London, we were fitted for ATA uniforms at Austin Reeds, etc.
The air raids were not constant enough to give me much pause; like anyone
in such a situation, I "knew" I would never be hit or hurt
(I was 21 at the time).
I never had any really unusual experiences or accidents while flying
RAF or Fleet Air Arm aircraft. The whole experience was exciting, however.
I flew thirty-two different types of aircraft, three of these as co-pilot
only and the rest as solo.
Regarding my thoughts during my stay in England, I was a spoiled California
brat, so at first, I was highly critical of everything. It was after
my husband went missing in October of 1942 that I found how very kind,
caring, and truly wonderful the British people were and are. (No one
was ever found from Wes' aircraft, on RAF Coastal Command Lockheed Hudson.)
If I were a young person (or even being my current senior citizen self),
and had the opportunity to do the same thing again as we did in ATA,
I would be back in the cockpit so fast, the world would think a jet
had just flown past at ground level! ATA was the most wonderful fulfilling
experience of my whole life!
Before getting into what I did after the war, I must preface this info
with the fact that, fifteen months after Wes went missing and nine months
after he had been declared officially dead, I married Jack Ford at Ratcliffe,
my Ferry Pool. Jack was an Army Air Force heavy bombardment pilot (one
tour in B-24's and one in B-17's); he was stationed in East Anglia.
After the war, we started our own aircraft ferrying company, Fleetway,
Inc. (subsequently Skyways, Inc.) in California. We delivered hundreds
of war surplus aircraft to various Air Forces - Peruvian, Paraguayan,
Chinese Nationalist, Korean, Brazilian, etc. We also delivered large
numbers of new aircraft all over the world - to Garuda Airlines in Indonesia;
to the Asahi Press in Japan; to Widerøe Airline in Norway. We
flew many DeHaviland Doves and Herons from England across the North
Atlantic to the USA and to South America. We did this until Jack was
killed in a Beech E-18 out of Wake Island in August of 1959. After he
was killed, I used the insurance money to return to college and get
a teaching credential. I HATED teaching, so I quit, went back to work
as a GS-2 clerk-typist for Air Force; started taking librarian courses
at night; quit work, borrowed the necessary, and got my Master's in
Library Science. I then became a librarian, first for the US Navy Post
Graduate School in Monterey, California, then on the Air Force librarian
jobs in New York and Ohio. I went overseas (to Germany) in 1972, became
a librarian for the US Overseas Dependents Schools for part of the time,
and a secretary for American Red Cross European Headquarters in Stuttgart
for most of the time. I came back to the States in 1976. I was then
sent back to Germany to the elementary school in Wuerzburg, Germany
(the system by now is called DODDS - Dept. of Defense Dependents Schools),
where I stayed as their librarian/media specialist until November, 1983,
by which time I (along with seven other professionals) could no longer
tolerate a really bad administration, and I returned to the USA. I retired
in May 1984; found I could not live on my retirement, and have been
working since then, mostly for Kelly Services. I share living quarters
with my daughter and our nine indoor cats (we go through 100 lbs of
litter a week so our house doesn't smell like cat!). My daughter, Pam,
suffers seriously from air pollution, so we have moved around a good
deal trying to find a place with decent air and still be able to find
jobs. We are finding that there is no such place, so we are presently
in Ogden, Utah, making the best of things. The air here is better than
most places for much of the time, but when we have fairly frequent temperature
inversions, the air is as brown as it is in Los Angeles, and my Pam
becomes a zombie (the chemicals in polluted air affect her central nervous
system - her breathing, her memory, her manual dexterity - it can literally
kill her if it goes on very long). There is, as they say, no place to
hide in today's world.