HOW THE WAFS OF WWII CAME TO BE
On May 21, 1940, Nancy Harkness Love wrote to Lt. Col. Robert Olds — Plans Division of the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps — about the possibility of women ferrying aircraft for the U.S. Army. Two weeks later, Nancy and her husband Robert M. Love and two employees from their Inter City Aviation air service in Boston took part in a ferrying operation to deliver small aircraft to Canada.
The planes were to be shipped to France but, sadly, the deliveries to Canada coincided with the fall of Dunkirk in France and the retreat of the Allies from mainland Europe. The aircraft never made it to France.
Olds took her suggestion to Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, H.H. “Hap” Arnold, but Arnold turned it down. Another woman pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, made a similar suggestion to Arnold that same summer. He turned her idea down as well.
FERRYING COMMAND ESTABLISHED
A year later — May 29, 1941 — Olds received the order to establish the Air Corps Ferrying Command in order to to speed up the deliveries of bombers to England via the then two-month-old Lend Lease Act. He put Maj. William H. Tunner in charge of finding pilots qualified to ferry those aircraft. Pilots were in short supply, but Tunner managed by borrowing pilots from tactical units.
Nancy Harkness Love — Photo courtesy the WASP Archives, Texas Woman’s University
Pearl Harbor changed all that. All Tunner’s “borrowed” pilots returned immediately to their units.
Airplane production went into high gear building training aircraft. Army Air Forces cadet flight-training centers bloomed all over the more weather-friendly south. Someone had to ferry those trainers from the factories to those training fields. Combat airplanes also needed to be flown to the docks for shipment to the battle zones. Tunner, desperate again for pilots, went on the hunt.
Men who could meet the Ferrying Command’s high standards, and who weren’t already in the Army or Navy, were working under contract as certified flight instructors teaching future combat pilots how to fly. By early 1942 the pilot shortage was more critical than it had been in 1940.
NANCY GETS COLONEL WILLIAM TUNNER’S ATTENTION
Bill Tunner, unaware of earlier proposals to use women pilots, met Nancy Love in spring 1942. He was impressed. Love had earned her private pilot license at 16, her limited commercial at 18, and her transport license at 19. She worked as a charter pilot for her husband, Bob Love, at Inter City Aviation in Boston. She also served as demonstration pilot for two experimental tricycle gear safety planes: the Bureau of Air Commerce’s Hammond Y, in 1937; and the Gwinn Aircar, 1937-38. And she had worked for the Bureau’s Air Marking project in 1935 and again in 1937. Her aviation experience was impressive
Bob , in the Reserve, was called to active duty immediately after Pearl Harbor. He headed for Washington D.C. All flying along the Atlantic coast moved inland after Pearl Harbor, so Nancy closed the flying service at East Boston Airport and joined Bob in D.C. He was a major, working for the Ferrying Command under their old friend Bob Olds.
When Olds’ health began to fail in March 1942, Hap Arnold replaced him with Col. Harold L. George and promoted him to brigadier general. That same month, Nancy went to work as a civilian setting up ferrying routes and running air operations for Maj. Robert H. Baker, at the Ferrying Command’s Baltimore, Maryland, headquarters.
Bob Love actually introduced his wife to Bill Tunner for the purpose of discussing what women pilots could do for the Ferrying Command. By then, Nancy came highly recommended by Baker and his superiors, General George, and George’s Chief of Staff, Col. C.R. Smith — who also just happened to be a personal friend of both the Loves.
NANCY LOVE LEADS WOMEN’S AUXILIARY FERRYING SQUADRON
On June 20, General George changed the name of the Ferrying Command to the Air Transport Command (ATC). Tunner was put in command of ATC’s domestic arm, the Ferrying Division. In that capacity, and with the total backing of his superiors in the ATC, Tunner made the groundbreaking decision to employ civilian women pilots to ferry military aircraft. He sent the proposal to General George who forwarded it on to General Arnold.
On June 20, 1942, Tunner also hired Nancy Love, age 28, to find and recruit women ferry pilots for him. On July 13, 1942, she reported for duty at New Castle Army Air Base, Wilmington, Delaware. Her first job was to write the training syllabus for women pilots. The original draft was in her handwriting. She also came up with the stringent requirements the women needed to meet to qualify for this new squadron — as yet unnamed.
See next week’s blog for the second half of this article.
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