WAFS, WASPs and Nancy Harkness Love
March 11, 2010
Wikipedia says that Nancy Harkness Love was born (appropriately enough) on Valentine’s Day in 1914. Love was interested in aviation from an early age, took her first flight at 16 and earned her pilot’s license within a month. In 1942 her husband Robert Love was called to active duty as the deputy chief of staff of the Ferrying Command, and Nancy convinced Col. William H. Tunner that experienced women pilots could be used to deliver aircraft from factories to airfields. Although Tunner’s original proposal for female pilots to be be commissioned into the WAACs was rejected, he appointed Love 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 at 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 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, 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 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.
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. She set a record of being the first woman in aviation to make a flight around the world. She flew the plane at least one-half of the time, including crossing over the Himalayas.
You can learn more about Nancy Harkness Love in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. In Wednesday, the roughly 1000 women from the WASP service were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service. Here’s a fantastic feature from NPR titled Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls.