Francis G. Kari (interviewed 5-24-93)
I was born in Marshall, Texas, grew up in Galveston, Texas. Learned to fly in Galveston. I had three brothers, and was the only daughter. I had a twin brother and two older brothers. I was born in 1921. My birthday is October 26.
Back in those days, we did not have the entertainment that youngsters have today. But we had the beautiful beach. We had miles and miles of beach and water and sand. Thats where my twin brother and little brother practically grew up. We lived about five blocks from the beach. By the time we were six or seven years old, we could all swim like fish, and my mother could trust us to go out all day, swim the whole day at the beach. She would give us a quarter a piece, and with that quarter we could buy food to last us all day. That was the diversion we had. There wasn’t much else to do, until our growing up years. There was dancing and stuff like that, but still, Galveston Island was a little tiny island off the coast of Gulf of Mexico. Completely surrounded by water.
Every once in a while, we had a hurricane threat. You had to make up your mind to get off of the island or stay there, because after the point of no return, you stayed because there was no way you could get off. There’s only two ways. One side was a causeway. The other side was the ferry. Most of the time we just stuck it out.
My father was with the railroad. He later died of. They determined it was the result of an accident that happened years before.
I went to Ball High School. That was the name of the high school. I liked school. I really loved school. I did well, because school was my whole life at that time. I wanted to do the best I could in everything that came along. I tried to interest my twin into getting interested in the spirits of english and the modern concept of literature, but he was nothing but sports minded. He would have any part of it. He did finally graduate, but it was a real chore to get him through high school.
In my last year of high school, I got interested in the band. Got picked up in that, finally made the marching band. I played the drums, and that was all fun. But after all the football season. It was very short, there wasn’t much time. I enjoyed my childhood very,very much.
After I high school, I went to work for the telephone company. They took a handful of us, and I still think it was kind of observation type thing, because they only took about six of us, and we were supposed to count so many things and do this and do that a given time. Apparently, somebody must have been observing us, cause there was two of us that were picked out of the six that regular jobs, and I stayed with them until I was; I finished my flying and I was old enough to go in the WASP.
I’m not sure what exactly what aroused the interest, but it was there. A friend of mine, he used to go out to the airport and just sit and watch the airplanes come and go, which was a big deal, in those days cause there was not many coming and going, but we could go out there. My friend got to be friends with some of the boys that worked out in the hangar, and they sneaked me in the airplanes once in a while, and would take me up on a flight.
Then, I finally met Bob Skoales, who was the manager of the airport, and my instructor. There was several businessmen in town that were anxious to get a flying club up. Like eight people into a Piper or something like that. So, my mom brought over the money, and I joined this group. Thats when we could fly for three dollars an hour. No, Five fifty, solo, and three dollars for instruction.
And I plugged along in that until I had my time. It was a Piper Cub, and an Aeronea. I think thats what I learned to fly in mainly. There were a few planes on the side that someone would let me fly, but those were the main airplanes.
I remember my first solo. It was late in the afternoon, you know the winds on the island would shift rapidly, and I knew that and I was well aware of that. But, I was so excited about being up there all by myself. I kind of overlooked that. So, the first two passes I made to come in, I could see I was going to float right over the airport. And I thought: “there is something wrong there”. I could see my instructor down there, he’s giving this, you know. It finally dawned on me I was coming in downwind. So, I went out and made a new approach and landed. That was about the happiest day of my life.
(joining the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots)
I filled out this application, and was I called to go up to Dallas, Texas, from Galveston. I took the eye test, and took my physical, and everything was hunky- dory. They said: “now you just go home and wait”. So, I went home. Then, I had to wait until I was 21. That was still a few months away.
Well, as soon as I turned 21, I got this telegram that came in the middle of the night. Telling me to report to Sweetwater, such and such a date, in May of 43. All excited. My mother takes me down to the train. Puts me on, and waves me goodbye, and away I go.
(What was your first impression of Sweetwater? (This is where basic training for the WASPS -was held))
I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings, or anything else. Lets face it, I was scared to death. I was scared of being away from home. (This was the first time Fran was away from home). After a few hours of being there, there was some of us that struck up real strong friendships and that lasted throughout.
I was in the class 43-5. I was bay mate with Sylvia Schwartz. There were two Sylvia’s in my bay, and a girt named jean Gavin. Jean later died. And then there was a girl by the name of Ray. And then there was a girl by the name of Wilma Morehouse. She was in there. She’s completely disappeared. Nobody knows where she is.
(When you went to Sweetwater, the largest airplane you had flown was a Piper Cub. What was it like to fly an AT-6?)
I thought that was marvelous. I thought that was the most wonderful thing in the world. Even the PT- 1 9 excited me.
(What was it like flying these airplanes? What was your impression flying the AT- 6?)
1 remember it was kind of tricky on landing. (the AT-6) But I discovered from the very beginning if you were super alert on your landing you could correct for any anything that was going to happen. So, I never had any real difficulty with that.
(Any exciting experiences?)
Well, I had a forced landing in Witchata Falls. All of a sudden I was loosing power, and I thought: “what was going on?” And I kept trying to get a little more power, and it just quit on me. And it was a dead stick landing. I looked here and there, the only thing that looked available was a corn field. So I got that (plane) right out at the end of the cornfield. It was a cut down corn field, which helped me to stop.
I was in a Bt-13.
So that was all fine and good, and I crawled out, and walked to a farm house and called them, and told them something had happened to my airplane. I was down in a corn field, and told then where I was.
So here comes this group, a hot shot. And he said, I can get this airplane out in nothing flat. And I said good for you. They didn’t even take the cowling off and look at it. I don’t think they trusted me or something.
He hops in that thing and fires it up, and gets it roaring up. He gets about from here to that front door and then (puts on the brakes). He said: “this field is too short, and you don’t have enough power”. I said: “what do you think I am doing down here?”
So they had to truck it off. Truck it over to Wichita Falls. And I stayed there two nights and three days. And I didn’t have any money with me. You know, on our cross countries, we never took any money. So this man, who was a Major, he felt sorry for me, he gave me, he gave me a handful of change, and a couple of cupcakes out of the machine and coke. And finally, this Master Sergeant came along says: “why don’t you go over to the WAC mess hall? They’ll feed you.’
So, I went over there and was standing in line and this lady came up to me and she said: “May I ask who you are?” And I told her. And she says: “I’m sorry, we have to account for every meal we serve.” I thought, well, there goes my supper. So, I didn’t get any food. So one guy, he’s going to town anyways. He brought me back a grilled cheese sandwich or something like that.
The next day they came and got me in a UC-78. And my plane didn’t get fixed and ready to fly for thirteen days after that. Someone else went after it.
And some of the troops like Mitch said: “Where have you been? What’s you been doin?” I said just having a wonderful time. That was fun, but that was the only odd ball experience I had in the whole thing. The rest was pretty cut and dried down the line.
(Did you have any hard times with any of the instructors or anything?)
No, we got along just great all of us. Some of them I liked better than the other ones, but it wasn’t that the other ones weren’t good instructors, it was just that some I enjoyed more.
So, then I went to Dallas. I was at Dallas, Texas, for six weeks. And I ferried four airplanes. And when I got back from my fourth flight, someone said: ‘Hey,
Greenie, you got some orders there on the board that are cut for you”. And that’s when I read that I was being transferred to Columbus, Ohio, for B- 17’s.
That was just absolutely wonderful. I floated all the way through the whole thing. It was so great. It was just wonderful.
We had a good instructor. He was firm, but he was compassionate. He was concerned. He did everything in the world he could to bring out the best in you.
(What was it like to fly a B- 17?)
It’s like flying a great, big, kite. And it was so neat because you pull back those throttles and it just float, float away. The most forgiving airplane I have ever flown. You know after landing, there’s a before takeoff procedure in between. I don’t remember who I was with. Ginny or Charlotette, of one of the gals. This was at night. We were having such a wonderful time that we did a landing and taxied around and taking off. I went up to reach up and get the boosters, the turbo’s or something they were already off. That was just how forgiving that airplane was. (after B- 17 training) We were stationed at Buckingham Field, in Florida. That’s where we hauled a crew of gunners. We were flying down parallel with the coast, down south. And there’s was B-26 out there pulling a target. And the gunners were shootin at that. Then we get done at the end, and we would turn around and come back, and they would shoot from the other side.
And then they had what was called an estimation range. We flew estimation range in between the other flying. They just needed somebody and said this afternoon, we need two hours, or you’ll spend two hours tomorrow on it. And that was fun, because you would be in an AT-6, and you would go screaming across this valley like, and would go angling down as fast as you could, and peel off, and try to confuse the gunners that were down there, trying to shoot you down.
(when you were flying the B- 17’s, did you have male first pilot or co-pilot?)
One day we would fly, and we would be first pilot, then the next we might be co-pilot, and we would split the time between. Sometimes it was guys, or sometimes it was gals. But everybody more or less equated out the same amount of time. First pilot time.
(What was it like flying with men, did you ever have any problems?)
(Did they accept you and everything?)
Oh yea. There was no problem there. By that time we were all pretty good friends, you know. They were all pretty likeable people.
(What was it like sitting in this airplane, having all of these guns going off? Was it hard to fly the airplane?)
No, I didn’t think so at all. I think we blocked our minds out of so many of the things that could happen to you. We were just stupid and happy.
(When did you leave Fort Myers, and where did you go from there?)
We left from Fort Myers, and then went to New Mexico. Rosilin, New Mexico. There, we did test flights. We took all the B- 17’s there, that needed some kind of repair, and then afterwards, we all had to fly three or fours hours after they came off the repair line. And that was fun. That kind of got a little boring.
Then, came a guy from somewhere, I don’t know, he was a Doctor. He wasn’t a pilot, but they started this program, once a month, he had to go to this POW Camp, just Northwest of our field. Maybe two hours. He had to go over there, and check all these prisoners. That was kind of interesting.
(What did you do after you found out that the WASPS were disbanding?)
That was Rostin, New Mexico. We heard a rumor one day, it had been kicked around before, that guys were coming back fast and furious from overseas, and we really weren’t needed anymore. See in the meantime, way back there when I was at Buckingham, I got married. And George was flying with the fifth bomber group. He was flying B-26’s. And then we,he was skatin around the country, someplace.
And then we finally got our orders, and the disbandment actually happened. We were told to turn in our equipment. And Donnie and I, drove from Rosilin, New Mexico, down to Louisiana. And that’s where Donnie met her husband. My husband was someplace else, I don’t know where.
And then they went on their way. I think maybe he was stationed in the State of Louisiana, someplace. I can’t recall the name of the base right now.
And I went on to California. That’s where George’s family lived. My family was all still down in Galveston. So, I went out to California. And I stayed with his mother, until George came home about eight months later. Then, he got out of the service. So, we were both out. Well, no, before he got out, I joined him, and we went to two or three bases like Vatesda, Georgia, and to Marertta, Georgia, and he was still flying the B-26’s.
(What did your parents this about you flying all over the country? What did they think about you being a WASP?)
Well, they had their own ideas whether I should or shouldn’t. They never told me I couldn’t do it. Or never discouraged me from doing it. They really didn’t encourage me either, but like I say, they didn’t seem to object too bad. They figured I was going to do it no matter what.
(what did you do after the war?)
We were in Van Nyes, California. Now, George wasn’t out quite. So, thats when I joined this civilian ferrying service. And that was flying airplanes; thats when the west coast was gobbling up new airplanes like crazy. Everybody wanted a new airplane. Aeronca’s, and Cessna’s, and Funk’s, and Bellanca’s, and Beechcraft.
Our headquarters was in California. We drive back to Ardmore, Oklahoma, or Coffeeville, Kansas. Or that Cessna place in Dallas. And we would pick up five new airplanes, and would come back in a group. Fly back and then the next two or three days, and off we go again, and we did that for over a year until the west coast was saturated with new airplanes.
Then my boss decided he had enough. So then I went to work for Disney. I worked for them about a year. That’s when Sammy Mason got in touch in with me, and asked me if I be interested in being a Wing Walker.
(How did Sammy Mason get your name?) (note: Sammy Mason has been a test pilot, air show pilot. He has written a book: Stalls, Spins and Safety, which is considered to be the best book on Spins by many pilots who specialize in spin training)
Oh, who knows. Who knows. He knew every pilot on the west coast. So Sammy wanted to know if I’d like to come up to Bear Lake, and try out to be a Wing Walker. I said: “Certainly, why not”. So, I drove up there two days later, and here’s this old jenny. And I said: ‘Now, what do we do now for practice?” “Oh, you don’t practice. There’s no practice to it. Either you do it, or you don’t”. So Roy Crussik, a little bitty guy, about that big, he was the pilot, he said: ‘Come on Fran, hop in. I’ll tell you what to do, no problem”.
So, I went up, and crawled up on the wing. Now then, they hadn’t put the shoe pieces in yet. But I walked out to the end of the wing, and stood there for a minute, and came back. And then the next …..
(this is was done while the airplane was flying you did that?) Yes.
(Did you have a strap on?)
Didn’t have anything then.
But, the next time I went up, Roy and Sammy had made me this belt. And you could tell it was home made. Later, they had one made by a parachute company. Boy, its a beauty.
You’d walk up to the end of the wing, and take the one end and unzip it and hook it over here, and then you let yourself dangle. You’ve got your skids. Have you ever seen a jenny?
(Yes, I know what one looks like)
And you’d get down so you’re dangling, you know.
(And you would get out there when the airplane was flying?) Oh yea.
(Were you strapped to anything when you walked out there?)
Not when you walked out. You weren’t strapped in until you got out there!
(Did you wear a parachute?)
No, you couldn’t wear a chute. If you accidently pulled that chord, you’d took like a piece of baloney.
(What would you attach yourself to on the airplane? Was there a pole sticking out?)
Just a spar.
(Did the pilot ever try to loop the plane while you were on it?)
Later, they tried a loop, but it didn’t work because we just didn’t have the
equipment, and my legs couldn’t take the G’s.
(what was it like wing walking?)
It was kind of breezy. But, it was fun. One time, after I had been in the show;
they had tried that loop only once. Cause the force pushed me back. And here I am in these boots on top of that wing, and my body is draped over the cockpit; the second cockpit. Jeez, I thought my ankles was going to snap. But Roy had his hand right in the middle of my back, and held me while we came in for a landing. We didn’t try that any more.
Then, later we had a beck of a time. They decided we were going to go from Bear Lake to Lindbergh Field, in New York. I said: ‘That’s peachy-keen’. And Sammy said: ‘You’re going to fly the jenny’. ‘Who me? I can’t fly the jenny, I’m the Wing Walker’. ‘But, you’re going to be the Wing Walker and the pilot”.
The jenny did not have any instruments at all in the front cockpit. No rudder pedals, no nothing. So Bill Bushaman,,who was a chute jumper, he rode in the front seat. And with him was this twenty five hundred pound JATO bottle. Now that JATO bottle, Sammy used on his smoke takeoffs.
But, there was some problems getting over some of the mountain. This was just a little Lycoming, and with this prop here, this fixed prop, it just wouldn’t cut it. So I think we were in Rock Springs some place, and they decided they were going to put a metal prop on that thing. That worked better.
But no brakes. When you wanted to stop, you tromped on one rudder, and you slammed that throttle forward and hoped you turn around and stop. Otherwise, you would bail out.
It took us six days to fly back there. And we had a big airshow. And Bill and I were weathered in Wilmington. Finally, we said: “Come on Bill, let’s go”. We did, we got in, and the airshow was already in progress.
Sammy went out and grabbed us, but they forget to put the wheel skids on. The wing skids so were getting ready to taxi, and takeoff, and Roy Cussack said: “Hey, stop”.
Cause I could not get back on the wing without the skids. So, we put them on.
We just had the one show there. And the next day they transported Roy’s little glider that Sammy towed behind Sammy’s Stearman. All the way back there.
When they got there, they figured it was too much to bring it back, so they shipped it back.
After the wing walking stopped, I was kind of worn out from ferrying and from wing walking. So, I took the test for the police department. So, I finally got on as a police woman, and that was kind of interesting.
Salt Lake City.
(How did you wind up in Salt Lake City?)
Well, George, by that time was with the FAA, and was transferred up here from California. He was an Air Traffic Controller.
(How long were you on the police department?)
Eighteen years. I retired form the police department. I started working for the police department in 1974.
(When were your children born?)
One was born in August 4, 1950, and the other was born the August 4, 1952.
(Pretty good planning)
Well, my doctor said to have them two years a part.
(What made you decide to join the police department?)
I never been much of a secretary type thing. And I thought that would be
(What did you do on the police department?)
I worked runaways. Child neglect, child abuse. Abused women. Mainly in that line. I never really got into, I was a “narc” for a short period of time, but that wasn’t my cup of tea. And then I was with auto theft for a while, but then
I didn’t get along too well, so I was stuck with the youth division. And that was just great. I thought it was fun working with the kids, and the young people. And I particularly liked “shagging” down the runway always that thought they could out smart you, you know. It never worked.
(Did you do any flying after your wing walking days?)
I flew a little after. I took a Cessna to Denver to Houston, Texas. just strictly as transportation for me, but I got paid a little side. I think I made two other trips somewhere. But that’s all. I was flown out. We came to Salt Lake City in 1956, and have been here ever since.
(What happened to your husband?)
We parted ways. You know how those things go. Which is all fine and good, and it just didn’t work out any more.
(What’s been important in you life? How would you view your life?)
I don’t know. I had a lot of dreams, and a lot of desires, and a lot of ambitions. A lot of them I succeeded in. Some of them I failed along the way. Some, I lost interest and gave up. But I think if you are determined, you can do just about anything you want to do. Anything. If you have the determination.