Slide Rule Packin’ Mamas: The Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical Engineering Cadettes of WWII

Author: Loretta McKinniss
Event Date: November 12, 2009
Speaker: Jean-Vi Lenthe
Speaker Affiliation: Poet/Activist from Taos
Time: 3:30-4:30pm
Location: FRNY B124
Open To: Faculty, Students and Staff
WWII engineering cadettes

 Join us on Thursday, November 12, for a fascinating presentation on the Curtiss-Wright Cadettes, a group of more than 900 women trained as aeronautical engineers at seven different universities from 1943-44. Three hundred of the Cadettes were trained at Purdue, and the first group, studying 40 hours a week for 10 months, covered a compressed curriculum equivalent to two and a half years of the standard engineering curriculum. Most of the Purdue Cadette Program graduates went on to work in the Engineering Department at the Curtiss-Wright plant in Columbus, Ohio. Their status was “junior-grade engineers,” and they worked in inspection, drafting and design, research, analysis, materials testing, weighing, and handbook editing.

Jean-Vi Lenthe, whose mother was one of the Cadettes trained at Purdue, began researching the Cadette Program one year ago and has an informative and inspiring story to tell about Curtiss-Wright’s urgent conception of the program, rapid planning of the curriculum, lightning-fast recruitment of candidates, and successful launching of the training. She will speak as well of the actual performance of these women engineers, in particular at the Columbus plant where the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver (a scout bomber referred to as “the big-tailed beast”) was built.
Though official corporate and government documents on the Cadettes and their work on the SB2C are scant and/or missing, Jean-Vi has doggedly pursued an overall picture of the Cadette Program and its effectiveness via interviews with surviving Cadettes and other WWII engineers, and through research at the participating universities’ archives, aviation museums around the country, and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Though this episode is now 65 years old, she has assembled a large collection of the extant pieces of the story and is busily sweeping away the dust and diminishment overlaying this fascinating story of women aeronautical engineers participating fully in WWII airplane production.
BIO: Jean-Vi Lenthe, MA, a writer, poet, and performance artist, was originally trained in journalism and history at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She is an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for mythology, and never expected to be retracing these footsteps into “ancient aeronautical history.” Her favorite airplane design is “the Flying Pancake,” a.k.a. “the Zimmer Skimmer,” which was test-flown by Charles Lindbergh and then improved (a second prototype), only to be scrapped by the government before it could be tested due to the advancement of jet engine technology.
PHOTO: Jean-Vi Lenthe and three of the surviving Curtiss-Wright Cadettes from the Purdue Class of 1943 in front of the only still-flying Curtiss Helldiver in its hangar in Houston, TX, March 2009.