Nancy Harkness Love

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Nancy Harkness Love
Love 1 350.jpg
Nancy H. Love, c. 1943
Born (1914-02-14)February 14, 1914
Houghton, Michigan
Died October 22, 1976(1976-10-22) (aged 62)
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Occupation Aviator
Test Pilot
Air Force Officer (Rank of Lieutenant Colonel)
Spouse(s) Robert Love

Nancy Harkness Love (February 14, 1914 – October 22, 1976), born Hannah Lincoln Harkness, was an American pilot and commander during World War II.

Early life[edit]

The daughter of a wealthy physician, Harkness 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 M. 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 World War II broke out in Europe, Nancy Love wrote to Lt. Col. Robert Olds, then in the Plans Division of Air Corps Headquarters but who a year later would be in charge of establishing the Air Corps Ferrying Command, 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. Olds submitted a plan for integrating civilian female pilots in the Ferrying Command to Gen. Hap Arnold, commanding general of the United States Army Air Forces, who turned it down after Jacqueline Cochran extracted a promise from him not to act on any proposal regarding women pilots that did not make them commissioned officers commanded by women.[1]

World War II[edit]

Nancy Love, pilot (left), and Betty (Huyler) Gillies, co-pilot, the first women to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber. The two WAFS were set to ferry a B-17 named Queen Bee to England when their flight was canceled by General Hap Arnold.

In early 1942, her husband Robert Love was called to active duty in the Munitions Building, Washington, D. C. as the deputy chief of staff of the Ferrying Command. Nancy Love accompanied him to Washington and on March 11 took a civil service position in Baltimore, Maryland with the Operations Office of the Ferrying Command's Northeast Sector (soon redesignated 2nd Ferrying Group), Domestic Division. The Domestic Division, commanded by Col. William H. Tunner, was designated Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command (ATC) a few months later.

She piloted her own airplane on her daily commute from the couple's home in Washington, D. C. The offices of Major Love and Col. Tunner were near each other, and during a conversation between them, her piloting skills caught the attention of Tunner, who was scouring the country for skilled pilots to deliver aircraft from factories to fields. Major Love suggested Tunner speak to his wife directly.

Nancy Love convinced Tunner that the idea of using experienced women pilots to supplement the existing pilot force was a good one. He then asked her to write up a proposal for a women's ferrying division. When his recommendation that she (and the other female pilots) be commissioned into the Women's Army Corps (WAAC) was denied, he appointed her to his staff as Executive of Women's Pilots. Within a few months, she had recruited 29 experienced female pilots to join the newly created Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Nancy Love became their commander. In September 1942, the women pilots began flying from New Castle Army Air Field, Wilmington, Delaware, under the 2nd Ferrying Group.

By June 1943, Nancy Love was commanding four different squadrons of WAFS at Love Field, Texas; New Castle, Delaware; Romulus, Michigan; and Long Beach, 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, an organization championed and headed by Jacqueline Cochran.

On August 5, 1943, the WAFS merged with the WFTD and became a single entity: the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Nancy Love was named 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 inventory, and their record of achievement proved remarkable.

She was the first woman to be certified to fly the North American P-51 Mustang, C-54, B-25 Mitchell, and along with Betty Gillies, the B-17 Flying Fortress. She was certified in 16 military aircraft, including the Douglas C-47 and the A-36.

In 1944, after the WASPs were disbanded, Love continued to work on the Air Transport Command's Report[clarification needed].

She set a record of being the first woman in aviation to make a flight around the world. She flew the plane at least half of the time, including crossing over the Himalayas.

After World War II[edit]

At the end of the war, Nancy Love and her husband had the unique distinction of being decorated simultaneously.[citation needed] He received the Distinguished Service Medal, and she 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 had 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. In 1948, after the creation of the United States Air Force she was designated the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Love died of cancer at the age of 62 in 1976, so she did not live to see the WASPs being accorded military recognition three years later. The WASPs were recognized in 1977, shortly after her death.


Nancy Love at the controls of a B-17 Flying Fortress.

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stewart-Smith, Lt. Col. Natalie J. (1981). "The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II: Perspectives on the work of Smerica's first military women aviators". Washington State University. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 

Rickman, Sarah Byrn (2008). Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of World War II. University of North Texas Press, TX.