Nancy Harkness Love
was born on February 14, 1914 in Houghton, Michigan, the daughter of a
wealthy physician. She developed an intense interest in aviation at an early
age. At 16 she took her first flight and earned her pilot's license within a
month. Although she went to all the right schools, including Milton Academy
in Massachusetts and Vassar in New York, she was restless and adventurous.
At Vassar she earned extra money taking students for rides in an airplane
she rented from a nearby airport.
In 1936 she married Robert Love, an Air Corps Reserve Major. They built
their own successful Boston-based aviation company, Inter City Aviation, for
which Nancy was a pilot. She also flew for the Bureau of Air Commerce. In
1937 and 1938 she flew as a test pilot, performing safety tests on various
aircraft modifications and innovations. In one project she served as a test
pilot on the new three-wheeled landing gear, which subsequently became
standard on most planes. In another, she helped mark water towers with town
names as a navigational aid for pilots.
In May, 1940, soon after the Second World War broke out in Europe, Nancy
Love wrote to Lt. Col. Robert Olds. who was in charge of establishing a
Ferrying Command within the Army Air Corps, that she had found 49 excellent
women pilots, who each had more than a thousand flying hours and could help
transport planes from factories to bases. Lt. Col. Olds took the suggestion
to Gen. Hap Arnold, Chief of Staff, who turned it down.
In 1942, Robert Love was called to active duty in Washington, D. C. as the
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ferry Command. His wife accompanied him to his
assignment and soon landed a civilian post with the Air Transport Command (ATC)
Ferrying Division Operations Office in Baltimore, Maryland. She piloted her
own airplane on her daily commute from the couple's home in Washington, D.
C., which caught the attention of Col. William Tunner, who was heading up
the domestic wing of the Ferrying Division and was, at that moment, scouring
the country for skilled pilots.
Nancy Love convinced Col. Tunner that the idea of using experienced women
pilots to supplement the existing pilot force was a good one. He then asked
the 28 year old Love to write up a proposal for a women's ferrying division.
Within a few months, she had recruited 29 experienced female pilots to join
the newly created Women's Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS). Nancy Love became
their Commander. In September, 1942, the women pilots began flying at New
Castle Army Air Field, Wilmington, Delaware, under ATC's 2nd Ferrying Group.
By June, 1943, Nancy Love was commanding four different squadrons of WAFS at
Love Field in Texas, New Castle in Delaware, Romulus in Michigan and Long
Beach in California. The WAFS' number had greatly increased because of the
addition of graduates of the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) at
Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas.
On August 5, 1943 Love's ferrying squadrons merged with the WFTD and became
a single entity: the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Nancy Love was
named as the Executive for all WASP ferrying operations. Under her command,
female pilots flew almost every type military aircraft then in the Army Air
Force's arsenal, and their record of achievement proved remarkable.
Between September, 1942 and December, 1944, the WASP delivered 12,650
aircraft of 77 different types. Over fifty percent of the ferrying of
high-speed pursuit type aircraft in the continental United States was
carried out by WASP, under the leadership of Nancy Love. Her personal
contributions included some equally remarkable accomplishments. She was the
first woman to be checked out in a P-51. By March, 1943, she was also
proficient in fourteen other types of military aircraft. She was the first
woman in U.S. military history to fly the B-25, flying it coast-to-coast in
record time, and was one of the first two women to check out in a B-17. The
WASP were disbanded on 20 December 1944.
At the end of the war, Nancy Love and her husband had the unique distinction
of being decorated simultaneously. He received the Distinguished Service
Medal, and she was awarded the Air Medal for her 'Operational leadership in
the successful training and assignment of over 300 qualified women fliers in
the flying of advanced military aircraft'.
After the war, Nancy Love became the mother of three daughters, but she
continued as an aviation industry leader, as well as a champion for
recognition as military veterans for the women who had served as WASP.
Nancy Harkness Love died on October 22, 1976. Among the things she left
behind was a box she had kept for more than 30 years. Inside was a
handwritten list of women pilots she had compiled in 1940 and clippings and
photographs of each of the women who had died under her command. Her job had
not been easy, but the love and respect she received from the WAFS and WASP
she commanded during WWII is indisputable.