Nancy Harkness Love

(February 14, 1914 – October 22, 1976)

Founder of the WAFS  (Women's Auxiliary Ferry Pilots).


Nancy Harkness was born in Houghton, Michigan to a wealthy physician. She earned her pilot's license at the age of 16 only a month after flying for the first time. She attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts and Vassar College in New York, at the latter, she earned money by taking students on rides in a rented aircraft. In 1936, she married Robert Love, a major in the US Army Air Corps Reserve and took on his name; they later had three daughters. The Loves established their own company Inter City Aviation in Boston, Massachusetts, which became very profitable. In 1937 and 1938, she flew as a test pilot for various companies, testing out new innovations such as the three-wheeled landing gear. She also helped marking water towers with town names to serve as navigational aids.

In May 1940, after the European War had already begun, Love wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Olds, who was in charge of establishing a ferrying command within the US Army Air Corps, in an attempt to start an organization of female ferrying pilots. She presented a list of 49 women each with more than 1,000 flying hours, but despite the qualifications, Olds' superior, General Hap Arnold, turned down the idea. In 1942, her husband became the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ferry Command and she joined the civilian Air Transport Command. Her office was located in Baltimore, Maryland and she flew her own aircraft on her daily commute from Washington DC to Baltimore. Colonel William Turner of the Air Transport Command Ferrying Division soon noticed Love's skills as a pilot, and she used the opportunity to present the idea of a women ferrying organization once again. Several months later, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, WAFS, was born with 29 initial members, and Love was placed in command of the new squadron. In Sep 1942, they began to fly out of the New Castle Army Air Field in Wilmington, Delaware, United States under Air Transport Command's 2nd Ferrying Group. By Jun 1943, she was commanding four squadrons of WAFS pilots in the US states of Texas, Delaware, Michigan, and California. On 5 Aug 1943, her squadrons merged with pilots from the Women's Flying Training Detachment based in Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, forming the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. She was named the head of WASP, and under her command the female pilots flew almost every aircraft used by the Americans during the war during ferrying missions. Personally, she was the first woman to be certified to fly the P-51 Mustang fighters, C-54 Skymaster transports, and B-25 Mitchell bombers, while also being certified to fly many other models. WASP was disbanded in 1944, but Love continued to work with the Air Transport Command.

Love and her husband were decorated at the same time: he received the Distinguished Service Medal while she received the Air Medal. Her citation noted her operational leadership in the successful training and assignment of over 300 qualified women fliers in the flying of advanced military aircraft". In 1948, she was given the rank of lieutenant colonel in the newly formed United States Air Force Reserves. She passed away in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. She was posthumously inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1997 and the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio in 2005.

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