Nancy Love Biography
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.
WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish contributed this article. You can learn more about the WASP at http://www.wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp/