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1996 – Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love was born on February 14, 1914, in Houghton, Michigan. She developed an intense interest in aviation at an early age. Sixteen years old in 1930, she took her first flight and earned her pilot’s license within a month. Later, she would carry this love of flying with her to Vassar where she started a flying school and augmented her allowance by flying passengers at Poughkeepsie Airport and earning her air transport rating in 1933. Leaving Vassar before the end of her sophomore year, she continued to pursue her flying career. Love was an early pioneer in the development of student flying clubs in U. S. colleges and a charter member of the Ninety-Nines, a female pilots’ organization founded by Emilia Earhart. In 1935 she was one of several women hired by the Bureau of Air Commerce to work on its Air Marking Program, a Works Projects Administration program to mark water towers, barn roofs, etc., with city names and compass headings as aids to air navigation.

By 1936, the newly married Nancy Love and her husband Robert Maclure Love were running their own business, Inter City Aviation, out of Boston Airport and acting as distributors for Beech Aircraft Company. In 1937 and 1938 she flew as a test pilot for Gwinn Air Car Company, performing safety tests on various aircraft modifications and innovations. One of her more significant achievements during this period was serving as the test pilot on the new tricycle landing gear later adopted as the standard for medium and large transport aircraft and bombers. She was one of several Massachusetts women who ferried light planes, destined for allies in Europe, to the Canadian border. It was during these ferry flights that she made her first contacts with the Army Air Corps’ Air Ferrying Command.

In 1942, after the outbreak of World War II, her husband Robert Love, then a Reserve Major in the Air Corps, was called to active duty in Washington, D.C. Nancy Love accompanied him to his assignment, and soon landed a civilian post with the Air Transport Command (ATC) Ferrying Division operation office in Baltimore, Maryland. She continued to add to her 1,200-plus flying hours by piloting her own airplane on her daily commute from the couple’s home in Washington. Even prior to her move to Washington she had recognized the potential for women ferrying pilots, but had seen the concept face numerous roadblocks. Ultimately however, she succeeded in convincing the head of the Ferrying Division’s Domestic Wing, then Colonel William H. Tunner, that the idea of using experienced women pilots to supplement the existing pilot force was a good one. With Colonel Tunner’s support the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) was established in September 1942, and began operations at New Castle Army Airfield, Wilmington, Delaware, under ATC’s 2d Ferrying Group.

In 1943, the WAFS and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) merged and became a single entity known as the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), with Nancy Love serving as executive director on the ATC Ferrying Division staff. Her duties included administration of six WASP ferrying squadrons and planning operational and training procedures. Charged with transporting military aircraft between factories, modification centers, depots and operational units, this highly experienced (average flying time for the initial cadre was over 1,100 hours) group of aviators, serving in federal civil service status, freed active duty pilots for combat duty. Under the leadership of Nancy Love, their record of achievement proved remarkable.

Between September, 1942, and December, 1944, the WASPs delivered 12,650 aircraft of 77 different types. During this timeframe, in fact, over 50 percent of the ferrying of high-speed pursuit type aircraft in the continental United States was carried out by WASPs. Nancy Love’s personal contributions included some equally remarkable accomplishments. The first woman to be checked out in P-51, by March of 1943 she was also proficient in C-47s, A-36s and 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, accompanied by Betty Gillies, was one of the first two women to check out in a B-17. She was also the first woman to deliver a C-47 and the first woman to check out in a C-54. At the end of the war, she and her husband had the unique distinction of being simultaneously awarded the Air Medal for their leadership and service in World War II.

After the war, Nancy Love continued as an aviation industry leader and became a champion for recognition as military veterans for the women who had served as WASPs, a status they received in 1977, shortly after her death on October 22, 1976.