Lt. Col. Nancy Harkness Love’s pilot career began in 1930 when she earned her private pilot’s license at the age of 16. In 1932, she earned a limited commercial license at Poughkeepsie Airport at the end of her freshman year in college. In 1934, she landed a job, in Boston at Inter-City Air Service.
In 1940, after the Second World War broke out in Europe, Love began trying to organize a women’s flying squadron. She brought her idea to Col. William Tunner, who was head of the domestic wing of the Ferrying Division with the Air Transport Command Ferrying Division Operations Office in Baltimore, Md., where Love was then working. With Tunner’s help, Love eventually recruited 29 female pilots to be a part of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS), of which she named the director.
WAFS was created to ferry U.S. Army Air Force trainers and light aircraft from factories to airfields, but later delivered fighters, bombers and transports as well.
By June 1943, Love was commanding four different squadrons of WAFS at Love Field,Texas; New Castle, Del.; Romulus, Mich., and Long Beach, Calif.
The WAFS merged with the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) on August 5, 1943, creating the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and Love was placed in charge of all ferrying operations.
Female pilots flew almost every military aircraft then under her command with approximately 9.2 million miles logged and a better safety record than male pilots.
Love is known for becoming the first woman to be certified to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress as well as the Douglas C-54 Skymaster, North American B-25 Mitchell, and several other military aircraft. In total, she was certified to fly 19 military aircraft.
Love continued to work on reports detailing the work of the Air Transport Command after the WASPs were disbanded in 1944.
After the creation of the United States Air Force, Love was awarded the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1948.
Love and her husband, Air Corps Reserve Maj. Robert M. Love, 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, 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 WASPs.
Love died of cancer in 1976, at the age of 62. She was posthumously inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Association in 1996, the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997, and the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, in 2005.
We honor you, Nancy Love.