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Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love


Nancy Harkness Love was born in Houghton, Michigan on February 14, 1914. Overcoming great odds, she was instrumental in the opening of military aviation to women.

After receiving her pilot's license when she was just sixteen years old, she began her aviation career working for the government marking the roofs of large buildings with directions for pilots. She also did extensive test piloting work, particularly in the design of the tricycle landing gear.

In 1942 she convinced the United States Air Force to use women in the capacity of pilots to ferry aircraft from the factories to the military airfields in the U.S. This group was known as the WAF (Women Auxiliary Ferry) and later the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) with Love as commander.
The original contract (WASP were all civilian contract pilots) was to ferry 850 planes a month, but by September 1942, 12,000 aircraft a month were being built. Through vigorous training these women eventually replaced 1,704 male combat pilots who had been ferrying the planes. Love and the WASP eventually flew all of the high performance aircraft such as the P-51, P-40, and two and four engine bombers such as the B-24, B-25, B-17, and B-29, the plane that dropped the atomic bombs.

Through her efforts, women were able to prove their skill as pilots and their value in the war effort. Considering the importance of aviation to the Allied cause, their work may have saved many lives and helped shorten the war.

Love was enshrined on October 13, 1989 for her work in expanding the opportunities for women in aviation and for her heroic efforts on behalf of the Allied cause during World War II.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program