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NANCY HARKNESS LOVE

Posted 12/6/2006 Printable Fact Sheet
 
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Nancy Harkness Love
Mrs. Nancy Harkness Love, founder of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. (Photo courtesy of Woman's Collection, Texas Woman's University.)
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Mrs. Nancy Harkness Love was 28 years old when she became the leader of the WAFS. She learned to fly some 12 years before at her birthplace, Houghton, Mich. She took flying lessons and received a private pilot license at age 16 while she was a student at Milton Academy, Milton, Mass. She entered Vassar College and continued to spend her summer vacations flying. At this time she pioneered in the development of student flying clubs in American colleges. Mrs. Love received her commercial pilot license in 1933, and in 1935 she was engaged by the Bureau of Air Commerce as one of a group of three women fliers to air mark the principal cities of the United States.

In January 1936 she married Mr. Robert M. Love; thereafter, she helped him in their company, Inter-City Aviation, at the Boston Airport, gaining experience in ferrying by delivering planes to customers. In 1937 she tested and demonstrated Gwinn Aircar and Hammond "safety planes" and demonstrated tricycle landing gear on safety planes for the Bureau of Air Commerce. While working on the operations staff at Baltimore before the organization of the WAFS, Mrs. Love had become thoroughly experienced in mapping ferry flights, and had become familiar with ferry routes, military operations, etc. At the opening of September 1942, Mrs. Love had logged over 1,200 flight hours, and held a CAA instrument rating, a CAA commercial license, a sea plane rating and was qualified to fly planes of 600 hp.

Through the end of 1942, the WAFS ferried primary trainers and liaison aircraft only. Mrs. Love and some of the more advanced WAFS were dissatisfied with being restricted to ferrying these elementary types of aircraft. Since they were the only types being flown by the original group at New Castle Field, Wilmington, Del., Mrs. Love preferred to go with a cadre of WAFS to Dallas where a new WAFS unit was formed. Mrs. Betty Gillies was placed in command of the group at Wilmington. At Dallas it was possible for the women to progress to flying basic and advanced trainer types. During January 1943, Mrs. Love ferried an AT-6.

With the establishment of a WAFS cadre in the 6th Ferrying Group at Long Beach, Calif., it was possible to take transition on more advanced aircraft. The 6th was the oldest and most important Ferrying Group in the Air Transport Command, handling an exceptionally wide variety of aircraft. Without publicity, as official directives still restricted WAFS to light aircraft, Mrs. Love checked out in a North American P-51 Mustang on Feb. 27.

On March 3 Mrs. Love requested a permanent change of station from Dallas to Long Beach. The transfer was approved on March 11. On March 5, 1943, she ferried a Douglas C-47 from Long Beach to Memphis, Tenn., with Ms. Barbara Erickson as copilot. This represented an important step forward to the flying of a relatively heavy, twin-engine aircraft over a considerable distance. By then she was qualified on C-47s, A-36s, P-51s, and some 14 other types of aircraft, most of which were manufactured in the Long Beach area.

Later in the spring of 1943, with the expansion in WAFS activities deriving from the arrival of the first graduates of the Women's Flying Training Detachment school, it was decided to transfer Mrs. Love to Ferrying Division Headquarters. In order to gain more experience in flying medium and heavy types of planes, Mrs. Love postponed the move until June, and then, on the way to Cincinnati, she ferried a North American B-25 Mitchell from Long Beach to Kansas City.

In August 1943, Mrs. Love and Mrs. Gillies, who might be called the deans of women pilots in the Army Air Forces, checked out on B-17s. In the following month an attempt was made to have them deliver a B-17 to the United Kingdom. Some question has been raised as to the propriety of this move. In fact, there appears to have been no impropriety. The only document restricting women pilots to domestic ferrying, emanating from a higher source than the Ferrying Division itself, is General George's memorandum to General Arnold which provided a basis for the establishment of the original WAFS.

Mrs. Love and Mrs. Gillies departed Cincinnati on September 2, 1943, piloting B-17F serial number 42-30624, and arrived that evening at Presque Isle, Maine. General Tunner had personally instructed them to fly via Goose Bay, Labrador, a route which would give them relatively short hops to Greenland, Iceland, and then Prestwick, Scotland, instead of going by the more usual route via Gander, Newfoundland, nonstop to Prestwick. They arrived at Goose Bay on September 4, encountering instrument weather on the way. They were delayed there by weather. On that day, Gen. C.R. Smith wired Brig. Gen. Paul E. Burrows, commanding the European Wing, advising him of the flight and instructing him to notify General Arnold, who was then in London. This General Burrows did on September 5 and General Arnold's reaction was most unfavorable. He dispatched a wire to General Giles ordering the trip be canceled and that "no women fly transoceanic planes until I have time to study and approve." The message was relayed to Goose Bay, arriving just 15 minutes before the women were ready to take off. Had they gone via Gander, they would by that time have been coming into Prestwick.

When the WAFS and WFTD were merged into the WASP, Mrs. Love was named Executive in charge of all WASP ferrying operations. After the war, Mrs. Love was awarded the Air Medal for her service in support of aircraft ferrying operations.

Source: Women Pilots in the Air Transport Command

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