Nancy Harkness Love- The First Woman to Serve in the US Air Force

Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love- The First Woman to Serve in the US Air Force

Born on 14 February 1914 to a wealthy physician, Nancy Harkness Love was the first woman to serve in the Army Air Force. She was also the founder and commander of the Women’s Auxillary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), a group of female pilots who used to ferry aircraft from factories to airbases. 

She discovered her passion for flying at an early age and was a licensed pilot at the age of 16. Despite attending prestigious schools like Milton Academy in Massachusetts and New York’s Vassar, she was often restless and adventurous. 

 In 1936, she married an Air Corps Reserve Officer- Robert Love. Together, they started a successful Boston-based aviation company. While working for her company as a pilot, she also worked for the Bureau of Air Commerce. 

In one of the projects, assigned to her by the Bureau, she tested the three-gear landing gear, which later became the standard for most aircraft. 

In May 1940, few months after WWII broke out, Love wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Olds that she has 49 skilled women pilots who could help ferrying planes from industries to airbases. Robert Olds, who was setting up a Ferrying Command within the US Air Force, was quite intrigued by Love’s letter. He took the suggestion to General Arnold, who rejected the proposal, though not permanently. 

Nancy finally got her chance in 1942, when she got an administrative job in Baltimore. She used to commute to her work by plane. When her husband, Robert Love, mentioned his wife’s daily commute to Colonel William Tunner, who was the head of the domestic ferrying division, Nancy finally entered the armed air force. 

Within months, 28-year-old Nancy was the director of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS). She managed 25 experienced female pilots under her. In 1943, her squadron merged with a women’s pilot training program. The collaboration came to be known as WASP, where Love was put in charge of all ferrying operations. 

After WWII, Love received an Air Medal for her services to the country. After retiring from her army life, the family moved to the countryside, where they frequently hosted WASPs. Love didn’t live to see the WASPs being military recognized as she died of cancer months before the recognition in 1976. 

Besides her courage and story, Nancy Harkness Love left behind a box with a handwritten list of women pilots she had compiled in 1940. The box also contained pictures of women who died under her command. 

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