Ballinger woman served as Women Airforce Service Pilot

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
Winnie Lee Jones was a Womens Airforce Service Pilot during World War II. She flew numerous types of aircraft before dying a tragic crash in the BT-13 Valiant she was piloting. The plane went down during a violent electrical storm outside of Sanderson, TX on April 24, 1946. Jones is a  native of Ballinger.

Remembering a Ballinger woman, Winnie Lee Jones, who served in the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during, and after World War II.

Jones was born on February 19, 1919 in Ballinger to Charles Elmer Jones and Leila Eugenia Jones.  She died in a plane crash while ferrying a BT-13 Valiant from Presidio, Texas to San Angelo. Her aircraft crashed outside of Sanderson, Texas on April 22, 1946.

The WASP program was formed on August 5, 1943. The program trained women as pilots to ferry aircraft as well as to train other pilots. Many of the women became test pilots due to the shortage of male pilots serving in combat around the world. Various members of the armed forces were involved in the creation of the program, yet the program had no military standing.

The Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) were formed in 1942. All 3 programs, WASP, WAFS, WFTD, were organizations that pioneered women in aviation. The programs were attached to the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.

Grave marker for Winnie Lee Jones (1919-1946) who died when her plane crashed during a violent electrical storm outside of Sanderson Texas on April 22, 1946. Jones served as a Womens Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. Jones and her parents are interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Ballinger. She was an only child.

Jones graduated as a member of WASP Class 44-W-7 on September 8, 1944. The training was held at Avenger Field in Sweetwater from February 12, 1944 - September 8, 1944. The class had 98 trainees with 59 graduates. After graduation, Jones was assigned to Lubbock Army Air Base.

Each WASP pilot flew numerous types of aircraft, from fighters to cargo planes to bombers. Jones' impressive portfolio of aircraft included the Stearman Boeing  PT-17 biplane, BT-13 Valiant, North American AT-6 Texan, Beechcraft AT-10 Wichita and the Cessna UC-78 Bobcat.

The training for WASP pilots was fast paced and demanding. Aircraft were being turned out by the manufactures by the dozens every day. The aircraft had to be ferried to locations around the country so that they could then be ferried to the numerous fronts in the war.

The women faced the dangers in aviation alone the majority of time. The pilots often flew solo without other aircraft accompanying them. Ferrying aircraft was significantly more dangerous before the advent of weather radar. In Jones' case, local farmers stated that she went down during a violent electrical storm.

The Jones family plot in Evergreen Cemetery in Ballinger. Winnie Lee Jones was a member of the Womens Airforces Service Pilots (WASP) program during World War II. After the war, Jones continued flying until dying in a fatal crash in her aircraft during an electrical storm.

Many of the women had Instrument Flight Rules certification, meaning that they could fly by instruments in times of reduced visibility. At times, the pilots faced thunderstorms, dangerous downdrafts, mechanical failures and fog. When flying solo, and often without radio contact, the courageous pilots were left to their own devices to deal with any probrlems. The women were their own best resource when it came to dealing with mechanical issues and severe weather.

In all, 38 WASP pilots lost their lives while flying various aircraft. One of the pilots, Gertrude Tompkins, has never been found. She and her aircraft, a P-51D Mustang, went missing while she was ferrying it from Mines Field in Los Angeles to Palm Springs. As recently as 2010 researchers have gone out to look for the aircraft crash site in Santa Monica Bay, without success.

Jones still has family in the Ballinger area. Chauncey Mansell is one of Jones' cousins. Mansell and his wife, Susan Mansell, reside in Ballinger. Susan will be placing a bronze plaque at Jones' grave site to honor her service as a WASP.

Jones' father, Charles, died on July 5, 1949, at the age of 63. Jones' mother, Leila, passed away on October 23, 1984 at the age of 91. The family is buried in the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery in Ballinger. Jones was an only child, with no children of her own.

Jones only lived 27 years, but she put a lot of life and courage into those years before making the ultimate sacrifice in service.