Women aviators: Role models for Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. James Weber
  • 62nd Maintenance Group commander
It's that time of year when we celebrate the accomplishments of some of my favorite people -- women. With Women's History month approaching, I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you to someone who should figure as a role model for any of us in the airlift business and add to your understanding of Air Force history as a whole. Her name was Nancy Harkness Love.

Born Nancy Harkness on February 14th, 1914, in Houghton, Michigan, she grew up inspired by aviation. At the age of 16 she started taking flying lessons and in less than a month earned her pilot's license.

By 1936, she was married to Robert Maclure Love, and the couple ran their own business, Inter City Aviation, out of Boston Airport. Nancy Love was also one of several Massachusetts women ferrying light planes to the Canadian border destined for our allies in Europe. It was during these ferry flights that she made her first contacts with the Army Air Corps' Air Ferrying Command and set the stage for her future success.

After the outbreak of World War II, her husband, a Reserve major in the Air Corps, was called to active duty in Washington, D.C. Nancy Love accompanied him to his assignment, and landed a civilian job with the Air Transport Command Ferrying Division. 

During this time, she convinced her boss, Col. William Tunner, that using experienced women pilots to supplement the existing force was prudent. With Colonel Tunner's support and Air Corps Chief of Staff Gen. Hap Arnold's blessing, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron was established in September 1942 and began operations at New Castle Army Airfield, Del. In 1943, the WAFS and Jacqueline Cochran's Women's Flying Training Detachment merged and became a single entity known as the Women's Airforce Service Pilots with Nancy Love serving as its executive director on the ATC staff.

Her duties included administration of six WASP ferrying squadrons and planning operational and training procedures.

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 were equally remarkable, among them being the first woman to deliver a C-47 Skytrain and the first woman to check out in a C-54 Skymaster.

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 to 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 Oct. 22, 1976.