Love, Nancy

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Nancy Love

Born February 14, 1914

Houghton, Michigan

Died October 22, 1976

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts


Nancy Love was director of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, or WAFS. The WAFS was a division within the Air Transport Command of the U.S. Army. WAFS were the first women to fly for the U.S. military, serving from 1942 until 1945. By flying home front missions, Love and the WAFS were in a unique position to advance the American cause in World War II (193945). Her highly experienced pilots made it possible to free active-duty male pilots for combat. The WAFS were charged with transporting military aircraft between factories, modification centers, depots, and operational units.

Nancy Love was one of the most accomplished women flyers of her time. She was the first woman in U.S. military history to fly the B-25 Mitchell, the P-51 Mustang, and the Douglas C-54 Skymaster. Love was the first woman to deliver a C-47 Skytrain and one of the first two women to check out in the B-17 Flying Fortress. She was also proficient in A-36es and fourteen other types of military aircraft. Love accomplished all of this as a civil servant in the Air Transport Command because women pilots were never officially members of the U.S. military during World War II.

In 1943 several army programs were combined to form the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Love retained command of her original group of WAFS and continued flying military planes until Congress canceled the organization in December 1944.

Making history

Nancy Harkness was born on February 14, 1914, in Houghton, Michigan. The daughter of a wealthy physician, she attended prestigious Milton Academy in Massachusetts and Vassar College in New York. While in high school at Milton, Nancy experienced her first plane ride. Inspired, she immediately took flying lessons and within weeks received her license. At the age of sixteen, she was the youngest woman in the United States to earn a private pilot's license.

Always restless and adventurous, Nancy carried her love of flying with her to Vassar. She started a flying school and earned extra money taking students for rides in a plane she rented from a nearby airport. In 1933 she became the youngest woman to qualify for a commercial pilot's license. Nancy was an early pioneer in the development of student flying clubs in U.S. colleges and a charter member of the Ninety-Nines. The organization got its name because 99 women pilots, out of a total of 126 who were licensed at the time, joined together to form the group. The first president was well-known aviator Amelia Earhart (18971937).

Nancy left Vassar following her sophomore year and found a job selling airplanes on a commission basis out of the East Boston Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1935 she and four other women pilots were hired by the federal government's Bureau of Air Commerce to "air-mark" the principal cities of the United States. Their job was to fly over the nation searching for landmarks such as water towers, barns, and rooftops that were visible from the air. The landmarks were then marked with city names and compass headings as aids to air navigation. It was her first regular paycheck from flying.

Love for life

Nancy Harkness met Robert Maclure Love at the East Boston Airport hangars when she first arrived in town. He was from a prominent East Coast family and had recently purchased the Curtis-Wright Air Terminal to begin his own business, Inter City Aviation. The couple married in 1936 and took off on a flying honeymoon. The union made all the Boston newspapers because women flyers were rare, and the handsome couple caught the public's interest.

After the honeymoon, Nancy returned to complete the air-marking program. In 1937 she went to work as a test pilot for the Gwinn Aircar Company in Buffalo, New York. She performed safety tests on various aircraft modifications and innovations. In one project for the Bureau of Air Commerce she tested three-wheeled landing gear, which became standard on most planes. For fun she occasionally entered the popular air races of the day. By 1938 Nancy was working full-time with her husband at Inter City Aviation. Nancy and Bob ran flying classes and charters, and they also demonstrated and sold several types of airplanes.

A changing world

When American factories began turning out warplanes for Great Britain in 1940, Nancy Love was one of several Massachusetts women who ferried light warplanes to the Canadian border. She felt it was a meaningful assignment that other experienced women pilots could do and began promoting a women's ferrying group to the army. The Loves had known many senior military officers for years through the Air Corps Reserves and Nancy was respected for her flying ability. In May 1940 she approached an old friend, Colonel Robert Olds of the Army Air Corps Planning Division, with the idea of employing women pilots to help transport planes from factories to bases. Love included a list of forty-nine women pilots she believed were well qualified. Most had flown more than a thousand hours in many kinds of aircraft. She received encouragement, but women flying airplanes and wearing pants were seen as too risqué (challenging social traditions) in America at that time.

By 1942 Love had logged more than twelve hundred flight hours. She held a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) instrument card, a CAA commercial license, as well as both seaplane and high-horsepower ratings. America was

Jacqueline Cochran

When World War II (193945) began in 1939, the United States began a special Lend-Lease program with Great Britain. Supplies and equipment, including airplanes, were transported by way of Canada to England. In order to free male pilots for combat, the Royal Air Force (RAF) began using women pilots to fly the arriving planes to airports near their fighting units.

In July 1941 Jacqueline Cochran (19061980) presented General H. "Hap" Arnold, commander of the Army Air Corps, with a plan for the Army Air Corps Ferry Command to use women pilots in the United States. At the time, Arnold was of the opinion that the United States was not ready for, nor did it need, women pilots. He suggested that Cochran take a group to England for duty and by August 1942 Cochran and twenty-four other American women pilots joined the RAF Air Transport Auxiliary.

Upon her return to the United States, Cochran met with Arnold and outlined a training program to augment the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in the expanding war. The new group would be called the 319th Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and would be stationed at the Municipal Airport in Houston, Texas. Jacqueline Cochran was director of this training group. She soon transferred her program to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.

More than 25,000 women applied to the program; 1,830 were accepted for training and 1,074 would eventually win their wings. They followed the Air Corps cadet program of primary, basic, and advanced flight training and ground school.

Upon graduation the pilots were sent for active duty on one of the four Ferry Command bases. They were to not only ferry planes from factories to the airfields but also test-fly repaired aircraft and even tow gunnery targets for artillery practice. They performed many other noncombat flying duties on the home front in order to release male pilots for the overseas war effort.

By July 1943 the training program was a proven success. The WFTD and the WAFS were combined so that all women pilots were under the jurisdiction of the director of women pilots, Jacqueline Cochran. They were renamed WASPs (Women's Airforce Service Pilots) and worked together until Congress canceled the organization in December 1944. They would be the last women to fly for the U.S. military for more than thirty years.

now officially involved in World War II and Robert Love, a reserve major in the Army Air Corps, received his call to active duty in Washington, D.C. Nancy Love landed a civilian post with the Air Transport Command (ATC) in Baltimore, Maryland. She commuted daily by plane from their home in Washington. The news of her employment with ATC reached Colonel William Tunner, who was head of the Ferrying Division of the ATC. At the time, new plane production was backing up at the factories and he had been searching the country for skilled pilots to ferry the planes to their final destinations. Tunner asked Love to submit a proposal for a women's ferrying group that would meet the approval of General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold (18861950), commander of the Army Air Corps.


Within months, the twenty-eight-year-old Love became the director of the newly created Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, or WAFS. She soon had twenty-eight experienced female pilots under her command. Each woman had an average of eleven hundred flying hours to her credit, as well as a high-horsepower rating and a commercial flying license. Each was required to be a U.S. citizen, present two letters of recommendation, and pass the physical. The women were to remain civil servants in the Air Corps because the Ferry Division needed pilots immediately, and it would take a great deal of time to get an amendment through Congress to legally commission women pilots in the military. The WAFS were established in September 1942 and began operations at New Castle Army Airfield, Wilmington, Delaware, under ATC's 2nd Ferrying Group. The first recruits were called the Originals.

Getting the media to take the new division seriously proved difficult. Life magazine drew attention not to Love's flying skills, but to her beautiful legs. The War Department tried to tone down the publicity and Love herself cautioned her recruits that their personal conduct must be above reproach in order for the WAFS to succeed. Love held the allegiance of the Originals because of the opportunity she had provided them. They were not about to let her down. Hers was an elite group of pilots and Love worked hard to ensure that they flew better and faster aircraft.

On February 27, 1943, while stationed in Dallas, Texas, Love checked out in a North American P-51 Mustang, the Army Air Force's hottest fighter plane. She moved on to Long Beach, California, in order to fly some fourteen other aircraft, most of which were manufactured in the area. That same summer Love and her close friend and copilot, Betty Gillies, prepared to ferry a B-17, called the Queen Bee, across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain. The British had requested the delivery of one hundred of the planes for a major offensive into Europe. Colonel Tunner was faced with a big order and a lack of qualified pilots to deliver the planes. Love and Gillies had been to B-17 school and were the first women to be checked out in the Flying Fortress. They had already made three domestic deliveries to date. Tunner had been ordered to advance the WAFS to their capabilities so he cleared the two women for the delivery and assigned his personal navigator to the flight. The crew picked up the Queen Bee in Cincinnati, Ohio, and flew it to Goose Bay, Labrador, in Canada. While awaiting clearance to fly the final leg of their journey to Prestwick, Scotland, an

urgent message arrived from General Arnold, who was away visiting in London, England. It said, "Cease and desist, no WAFS will fly outside the contiguous U.S." Bitterly disappointed that they had been grounded by politics, the two women shut down the engines.


The WAFS were merged with the army's WFTD (Women's Flying Training Detachment) in 1943. The combination was called WASPs (Women's Airforce Service Pilots). Nancy Love remained in charge of all ferrying operations and so her Originals in the WAFS remained secure in their existing assignments.

December 1944 saw the end of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots and the women were grounded. Love stayed on duty for a short time to assist with writing the Air Transport Command's Report. She finished her wartime service with another women's aviation first when she went on a flight around the world. She was at the controls of the plane at least one-half of the time, including the leg of the journey crossing over the Himalayas.

In July 1946 Nancy and Bob Love became the first couple in history to be decorated at the same time for their military service. Nancy was presented with the Air Medal for her pioneering work with the Ferry Division while Bob added a Distinguished Service Medal to his other decorations. In 1948, shortly after the U.S. Air Force was established, Nancy Love was designated a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

After the war, the Loves withdrew to private life and started a family. They had three daughters and moved to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Nancy Love kept the women she had commanded central in her life until her death from cancer on October 22, 1976. Love never stopped working to gain formal recognition as military veterans for women who served as pilots in World War II. They received this status in 1977, shortly after her death.

For More Information


Carl, Ann B. A Wasp Among Eagles. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.

Granger, Byrd Howell. On Final Approach. Scottsdale, AZ: Falconer Publishing, 1991.

Knapp, Sally. New Wings For Women. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1946.

Verges, Marianne. On Silver Wings. New York: Random House, 1991.

Williams, Vera S. WASPSWomen Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1994.

Web sites

"Fly Girls: Nancy Harkness Love." PBS: The American Experience. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Jacqueline Cochran, Record Setter." National Aviation Hall of Fame.{F3401AC2-408C-42A7-AD0F-CDDC7942F110}&eID=244 (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Nancy Harkness Love." Airlift/Tanker AssociationHall of Fame. (accessed on July 22, 2004).