American female pilots in WWII

Did you know that American female pilots flew, and died, for their country in WWII?

For a brief period from 1942 to 1944, the U.S. trained and employed 1,102 female pilots (WASPs) to help with the war effort. They weren’t allowed to fly in combat, but they performed other duties that consequently freed up male pilots to head overseas. Those duties included variously low-prestige and/or high-risk activities such as:

  • flying planes from where they were assembled to the port from which they’d be flown to the war fronts
  • towing a canvas target for ground troops to shoot anti-aircraft guns at (really!)
  • testing newly repaired planes to certify them to be sent back out to the front

They also learned to fly large bombers that, in some cases, no other pilots were willing to fly. These planes (such as the B-29) were often prone to engine fires or other issues. Yet after a few women pilots were trained to fly them, and started providing instruction in the strategies they developed to avoid or deal with those problems, male pilots became willing to take over the controls. The B-29 was later used to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.

Despite their excellent track record in terms of safety and efficiency (e.g., in delivering planes across the country), the WASP program was canceled in late 1944, and women were not allowed to fly military planes again until 1977 (!).

WASPs were, in fact, never an official part of the Army (the Air Force had not yet been created) because Congress had not included “pilot” in its list of wartime duties women were allowed to perform. WASPs therefore did not receive military insurance, and those who died while performing their duties (38 women) received no government recognition. This changed in 1977 when President Carter signed a bill that recognized WASPS retroactively as having served in active duty, and WASP veterans received official honorable discharges.

Other countries employed women as military pilots in battle during WWII. In Russia, female pilots were called night witches (fascinating reading) by the Germans who often tangled with them in the air at night. From what I’ve read, our female pilots would have been willing to do the same.

For more info on WASPs and their accomplishments, see WASP on the Web.

Breakfast versus afternoon tea

What is it about a tea that renders it suitable for a particular time of day?

It turns out that “breakfast tea” and “afternoon tea” have no particular standard definitions, but there are conventions. In general, a breakfast tea has a higher caffeine content, while an afternoon tea is meant to create “the perfect feel for a day winding down”. No amount of caffeine gives me a “winding down” feeling (just “winding up”!), but at least this way I can pick an afternoon tea if I want a smaller dose in the morning.

There’s also an interesting historical evolution of the content of a cup of tea that was dictated by the availability of tea imports from different parts of the world (originally China, then also India and Africa).

And what about English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast teas? Here’s a capsule summary (full details):

  • English breakfast: Full-bodied and rich. Originally a China black tea but now frequently includes a strong Ceylon tea component. May also include teas from Assam, Africa, and/or Indonesia.
  • Irish breakfast: More robust than English breakfast. Generally has a strong Assam component, giving it a malty flavor.
  • Scottish breakfast: Typically the strongest of the three. May include teas from China, Assam, Ceylon, Africa, and/or Indonesia.

A malty flavor in tea? I’ll have to pay more attention next time I get to try an Irish variant. The increase in strength for the Scottish breakfast blend is hypothesized to arise from their softer water (took more/stronger leaves to brew?).

Many sources characterize the different tea types (black, green, white, etc.) as having different amounts of caffeine (e.g., Choice Organic Tea’s tea guide). However, there are no industry standards, and tea packages do not typically indicating the caffeine content. Empirical studies have found that caffeine content ranges all over the map for all types of tea. Some example studies (interesting reading!):

Neither study did a breakdown of caffeine content for breakfast vs. afternoon teas, although Friedman et al. reported higher amounts of theaflavins (a beneficial antioxidant) in breakfast teas.

The Chin et al. study also found that brewing your tea in 8 ounces of water yields more caffeine than using 6 ounces (but about the same rate per ounce) and that at least half of the caffeine is extracted after just 1 minute of brewing.

(By the way: what an awesome research topic! Sounds like fun times in the lab.)