Inducted September 2014
Priscilla “Pat” (Morrison) Getchell trained Navy pilots in World War II, using the military’s earliest flight instrument trainers: the Link Trainer. She was born in Massachusetts in 1921(?) and attended Boston University until she answered the nation’s call to serve in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was an urgent need to find and recruit personnel to operate and instruct pilots using simulators. The Navy looked to colleges and universities for young bright women who had good communication skills to help train pilots.
An avid student of flight in her early years, especially the exploits of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Pat Getchell trained pilots to prepare them for missions against the Japanese. She became proficient in aircraft instrument navigation, Morse code, weather, voice procedures and trainer maintenance. Assigned to Atlanta Naval Air Station as a Link Trainer Operator, she attended the Control Tower Operators School, enabling her to perform control tower simulation more realistically. The training required her to fly in operational aircraft, giving simulated control tower commands to other airborne aircraft. As the lead petty officer at the naval air station, she supervised 98 other WAVES.
During World War II, Link Aviation in Binghamton, NY, sold approximately 10,000 trainers to the military. Over the course of the war, approximately 500,000 pilots were trained in the Link Trainer. It is said that the Link Trainer with its various configurations was a “force multiplier” during the war.
The Link Operator sits at a desk and, using a radio, gives signal and voice commands to the pilot undergoing training in the simulated cockpit, enabling him to navigate from one radio station to another and then to a control tower for landing.
At her duty station at Naval Air Station Kaneohe, Hawaii,Petty Officer Getchell developed a Control Operator’s School curriculum and procedures. Many of the students were sailors who had survived enemy attacks aboard ships in the Pacific Ocean. Transferred to NAS Honolulu, she was promoted to Chief Petty Officer (CPO) and led the Link Trainer Department. Pat Getchell was the first WAVE CPO on the base, having made that rank after only three years of service.
One interesting training experience began with her commander taking her on board a twin engine aircraft where she was told to bring a pen and paper to take notes. The commander believed that she would develop accurate communication procedures by observing them and taking notes during an actual in-flight IFR landing. While on the final approach, the commander pilot unexpectedly placed a black curtain over the front window of the aircraft and followed the controller’s instructions to just before touchdown. CPO Getchell took notes throughout the harrowing experience.
She vividly remembers the day Allied victory was declared over Japan. She and the other WAVES operators watched from the Honolulu Naval Air Station as streams of ships blasted their whistles in a victory parade out of the harbor. She said they wept and cheered, imagining the joy ahead for the families awaiting those boys at the seaports in the states She left the Navy in 1946 but after leaving, she was offered a Chief’s position in the Space Program in Washington, DC. She declined the offer.
After she returned to the states, she married Ralph Getchell and they raised nine sons, three of whom served in Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf War in 1991. She went back to school after the sons were grown, at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, while working as a secretary at Umatilla High School in Florida. She later worked as a high school student counselor at the high school for 20 years.
Pat Getchell has focused on community services over the years. Promoting literacy, raising money for the public library, supporting the food bank and feeding the poor are but a few of her activities. She was inducted into the Lake County Florida Hall of Fame for her charity work. With a passion for aviation and her desire to help others, she became involved in “Angel Flight”, scheduling private pilots to fly charity flights anywhere in the country. Pat Getchell, a remarkable woman, served the nation in World War II as a WAVE and continues to serve humanity through Angel Flight and other charitable causes. She was inducted into the National Center for Simulation Modeling and Simulation Hall of Fame in 2014.