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This information and some of the images come from the biographical file for pilot Harkness, CH-141000-CR &CL-802000-01 et seq. reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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Googling "Nancy Harkness" gets about 2,500 hits as of the upload date of this page. Web biographies are avialble here, here, and here.

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NANCY HARKNESS (LOVE)

Nancy Harkness, May 22, 1932
Nancy Harkness, May 22, 1932

Nancy Harkness Love was born February 14, 1914 at Houghton, MI. She went to schools in Houghton, Milton, MA and in Florida, and spent a year abroad (1927).

In a letter to a public relations firm written on December 14, 1937 (the letter is in her NASM biological file, left sidebar) she states that she was at Paris Le Bourget when Lindbergh landed. She writes of that experience, "...it didn't inspire me with the overwhelming desire to fly, as it probably should have!"

She learned to fly in August, 1930 before returning to Milton Academy in Milton for her senior year. She flew during her senior year at Boston airport and at Cape Cod on weekends. She went to Vassar College in the fall of 1931 and flew there at the Poughkeepsie, NY airport.

At right, we see her as a Vassar College "girl" photographed in the cockpit of her plane at Poughkeepsie. This image is from a short article that appeared in the Sunday Star, Washington, DC, May 22, 1932.

She was the only flying freshman and the only aviator at Vassar College. She had just been awarded her limited commercial license on her way to her goal of the transport license. While she was at Poughkeepsie (a town on the Hudson River about 60 miles north of New York City) she received a lesson or two from Register pilot John Miller. According to her letter, she did, "...some mild passenger hopping" with her commercial license.

 


Nancy Harkness, 1932
Nancy Harkness, 1932

At left, she appears in the cockpit of her biplane which, in the original photograph, has a coaming stitch pattern exactly like the one above. It is easy to conclude, given the coaming, similarity of helmet and goggles, and cut of the collar of her jacket, that these images were taken on the same day at Poughkeepsie.

In the summer of 1933 she earned her Transport license at home in Houghton. She dropped out of Vassar in 1934, she says in her letter, "...with the strange idea that I could get a job in aviation...."

She did get that job, selling airplanes in Boston. Below, Nancy Harkness at Boston in 1934 with a Waco. See, also, the letter two images below.

 

 

Nancy Harkness with Waco, 1934
Nancy Harkness with Waco, 1934

In 1935 she joined the Bureau of Air Commerce in the Airmarking section, and worked for them off and on until the Gwinn Aircar appeared (see below). She was out of the Bureau for about a year (1936) after she was married. It was her marriage that brought her to Tucson.

She signed the Davis-Monthan Register on Saturday, January 25, 1936 at 11:15 AM. She was solo in Beechcraft Staggerwing B-17-L NC14415. She was on a round-robin flight from and to Phoenix, AZ, a short flight in her Beechcraft.

She also landed three days later on Tuesday, January 28, 1936 at 6:15 PM. She was a passenger on this visit with her new husband, Register pilot Robert Love. Her signatures in the Register for these two visits were interesting. She signed "Nancy L. Harkness" first visit, and "Mrs. N.H. Love" the second. It appeared she was trying to get used to her new married name.

The context behind her appearance at Tucson was that she and her husband were married in Boston January 11, 1936, and took a 3-week honeymoon to California. We find her in Tucson during that honeymoon, curiously signing the Register as a solo pilot. Perhaps she just wasn't used to including a significant other in her log entries. Please direct your browser to her airplane, above, for details about this classic airplane, which is undergoing restoration near Pittsburgh, PA.

Nancy & Robert Love, Date Unknown
Nancy & Robert Love, Date Unknown

Above, Robert and Nancy Love. The airplane appears to be the same one Robert is standing in front of at his link, above. The chart held by Robert appears to be of the Lake Michigan area, with Chicago at lower left (thanks to site visitor A. Wagner for identifying the chart location).

Nancy Harkness Love had a varied career in aviation during the 1930s, it peaked in the early 40s and dwindled in the late 40s. The Boston Post of October 21, 1935, in the sexist fashion typical of the era, describes how the "girl" from Michigan traveled east and took a sales job with Inter City Air Lines in Boston. The paper states, "...Miss Harkness, who is barely over 20 and who is little and very pretty, can smile wisely to herself. For now she wears a sizable and very sparkling diamond ring on her left hand and she is engaged to the president of Inter City Air Lines, Robert Love, son of a New York banker."

El Paso, TX Air Marker Program, ca. mid-30s
El Paso, TX Air Mark Program, ca. mid-30s

The article goes on to describe her new assignment with the Bureau of Air Commerce to establish markers for flight guidance in every important city and town on the Atlantic seaboard, Ohio and Michigan. Fellow Register pilots Louise Thaden and Phoebe Omlie were also involved in the marking program. The effort was to place on prominant roofs huge letters and arrows which named the city or town, and arrows to guide aviators to the nearest local airport as well as a pointer to true north.

Image, right, from the National Archives via this article, shows what some of our Davis-Monthan pilots viewed when they approached El Paso, TX. Although Harkness was not involved with this particular city, she submitted a report (contained in her NASM biographical file) that documented 707 towns and cities marked by the program in her states of Mass. Maine, Conn., NH and Vermont.

Clearly, this program was executed successfully and with persistence, given that the funding for paint and labor was carved from WPA allotments to the states and localities. Most of the markers were removed in the name of security once WWII began a few years later.

On another front, her mid-1930s sales activity at Inter City ranged far, and into some heady circles. Letter, below, found in her NASM biological file, from a well known family patriarch. Perhaps prophetically, he patriarch's son, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. died in an airplane during WWII, and his grandson, John, also died in an air crash July 16, 1999.

Letter from Joseph P. Kennedy
Letter from Joseph P. Kennedy

In a subsequent letter, Kennedy states on April 26, 1935, "Thank you for your letter of April 24th regarding the new Beechcraft. I have decided not to do anything about a plane at this time, however." Would that his grandson had done the same.

According to the December 14, 1934 letter cited at the top of this page, during the mid-late 1930s Nancy also, "...did a little racing, but that's nothing to talk about, as I didn't come out very well! A fifth in a handicap race at Los Angeles [1936 National Air Races; she won $75], and second at Detroit in a free-for-all."

She also did some charter work for Bob's company, "...and quite a lot of seaplane flying, which might be interesting, as not many people do it as yet in this country, although of course it's common up here in the wilds of New England."

During 1937-38 she was test pilot for the Gwinn Air Car Company. Below, Nancy stands between Mr. Gwinn and Frank Hawks on the right. Notice the tricycle landing gear with the steerable nose wheel. Also to note is the 4-bladed propeller fashioned from two 2-bladed ones.

Joseph Gwinn, Harkness and Frank Hawks, ca. 1937-38
Gwinn, Harkness and Frank Hawks, ca. 1937-38

If you direct your browser to the Hawks link, above, you'll learn that he was killed August 23, 1938 in a Gwinn Air Car. He struck power cables during an approach to landing. Please follow this link for another image from August 6, 1937 of this airplane exhibited on this web site.

Nancy Harkness Love and Frank Hawks
Nancy Harkness Love and Frank Hawks

Left, Harkness, the Aircar and Frank Hawks, ca. 1937-38. Below, as summary of her training and work experiences during the 1930s.

NHL Work Record 1930-1942

Private Pilot's License Commercial License Instrument Rating

Nov1930 Jul1933 Nov1940

Sales & demo pilot, Boston
1934-35
Air Marking
1935-37
Gwinn Aircar
1937-38
Sales & demo pilot, Boston
1938-42

As WWII approached, while the U.S. was still neutral, she ferried Lend/Lease military aircraft to the Canadian border. On May 21, 1940 she provided a list of qualified female pilots to Colonel Robert Olds (the letter and a draft and final copy of the list are in her NASM biological file).

The purpose of the list, with WWII in the near future, was to investigate the potential of using women to ferry warplanes from manufacturing plants in the U.S. to debarkation points. Besides herself, her list includes 104 other female pilots from across the United States and the Territories of Puerto Rico and Hawail. Significantly, her list names eleven of the 42 women who were signers of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register: Margeurite Bowman, Rachel E. Donnell, Alice duPont (Mills), Cecile L. Hamilton, Jean LaRene (Foote), Ruth R. Nichols, Gladys O'Donnell, Bessie Owen, Joan Shankle, Louise M. Thaden and Bobbi Trout.

The resulting dialog led Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to announce the formation of the Women's Auxilliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), naming Nancy as commander. Shortly, with the formation of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), the WAFS were incorporated into the WASP and Nancy was made director of the ferrying division with headquarters at Cincinnati, OH.

Fifinella, The WASP Logo
Fifinella, The WASP Logo

At right is the WASP logo conceived and created by Walt Disney Studios. Many logos were created by Disney during WWII for use by groups and squadrons.

The WASP performed yeoman duties between 1942 and 1944 ferrying airplanes from their manufacturers. About 50% of military aircraft ferried in the U.S. were flown by women during that time. Unfortunately, near war's end the WASP were disbanded without ceremony, with little recognition and without military benefits. Nancy was 30 years old when she wrote her last reports for the Air Transport Command. She worked for the rest of her life to lobby for recognition and Veteran's benefits for the WASP.

Below, an example of the terse communication from a WASP recording a "mission accomplished".

B-17 Delivery Telegram, August 24, 1943
Delivery Telegram, August 24, 1943

The WASP and Nancy Harkness Love received attention from newspapers and Hollywood. Below, Loretta Young (second from left) is escorted away from a B-17. The other two escorts are unidentified. Loretta Young appears elsewhere on this web site, here, with Register pilot Ace Bragunier.

Nancy Harkness Love and Loretta Young, 1943
Nancy Harkness Love and Loretta Young

Below, Betty Gilles and Nancy Harkness Love in front of a B-17. They wanted to ferry aircraft across the ocean to Europe, but General Hap Arnold forbade it.

Betty Gillies and Nancy Harkness Love, ca. early 1940s
Betty Gillies and Nancy Harkness Love, ca. early 1940s

 

Nancy Harkness Love in Cockpit of a Fairchild PT-19A
Nancy Harkness Love in Cockpit of a Fairchild PT-19A

During WWII service, Harkness ran her WAFS organization, flew a cross-section of front-line military aircraft, and waded through the politics and sexism that was forced into her face on a daily basis.

In her NASM biographical file she left a hand-written listing of the types of aircraft she had flown up to the end of WWII. The list included 50 types of civilian aircraft manufactured by the major companies of the day. It included 19 types of military aircraft, including the predominant transport, training, fighter and bomber aircraft of WWII. Curiously, the P-51 was not on her list, so the total of military craft is at least 20.

Besides her considerable flying skills and flexibility, in general, she demonstrated inventive energy, leadership aptitude and organizational skills, representing a tremendous potential resource that was not fully appreciated or recognized by the good old boy military hierarchy. She left the service with the rank of Lt. Colonel. Both she and her husband received the Air Medal simultaneously at the end of the war for their service and leadership. Image, below, shows them receiving their medals from Register pilot and General Harold L. George.

Receiving Air Medal From General H.L. George
Receiving Air Medal From General H.L. George

Below, an interesting artifact from Harkness' NASM dossier. This fuel receipt records the purchase of 146 gallons of gasoline for a P-38. If you do the math, that's 30-cents per gallon. At the time of upload of this page, aviation gasoline costs anywhere from $3.50-$5.00 per gallon in the U.S.

Fuel Receipt, June 19, 1946
Fuel Receipt, June 19, 1946

Aerofiles.com states that Wiggins, "... has roots in 1929 and Elwood Wiggins, a multi-diversified FBO [Fixed Base Operator; supplier of products and services to pilots] who provided early helicopter service, trained significant pilots locally, and had flown 'Santa Claus' to the New England Lighthouse communities ever since 1945." Wiggins still exists today at the Norwood Airport, Norwood, MA.

The postwar career (or lack thereof) of Nancy Harkness was in many ways typical of women of the era who held responsible positions during that time of national need. She disappeared into domesticity, rearing three children (Robert went on to found Allegheny Airlines). They moved to Martha's Vineyard where Nancy's aviating was limited to taking their children off-island for doctor and dentist appointments.

Nancy Harkness Love and Her Children, June, 1954
Nancy Harkness Love and Her Children, June, 1954

Below, another photograph of Love with her children and the family's Beech Bonanza.

Wide Shot of NHL With Her Children, June, 1954
Wide Shot of NHL With Her Children, June, 1954

She never made the news after 1944. At least one source, Jaros, describes her as going into a "kind of depression." A few years back I met "Someone" at a party who knew the Loves on Martha's Vineyard. "Someone" characterized Nancy as assertive and angry over an unrequited career in aviation. Maybe, maybe not. Many other women who comprised the cadre of WAFS and WASP went on to keep aviation in their lives, to become aggressive and successful air racers, and to have positive careers and families as well.

Nancy Harkness Love, 1914-1976
Nancy Harkness Love

As of the upload date of this page, surviving WASP are represented by exhibits staffed by them at major airshows around the country. These are old and wise women, and it is a real pleasure to stop by their displays, look into their pilot eyes, and talk about their experiences, and to introduce them to the 42 women who signed the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register. Some have written books and memoirs about their lives and WASP experiences. For example, this one.

If you are a Project Muse member, a 2008 book about Nancy Harkness Love by Sarah Byrn Rickman , "Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of World War II," is available for piecemeal download at the link. You need to download it a chapter at a time, but the book is a thorough review of her life.

Nancy Harkness died of cancer at age 62 on October 22, 1976 in Sarasota, FL, 32 years after completing her WWII ferrying work.

Thirteen months after her passing, on November 23, 1977, the WASP received Veteran's status (H.R. 8701, signed by President Carter). Other awards for the WASP can be found at Register pilot Aline "Pat" Rhonie's Collection.

Maybe it's worth repeating:

"I think probably the best thing to stress about my flying, if anyone wants to know, is the very fact that it is undramatic -- you know, the everyone can do it stuff."

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Dossier 2.4.15

UPLOADED: 02/12/08 REVISED: 10/27/10, 07/25/14

 
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Nancy Harkness

"I think probably the best thing to stress about my flying, if anyone wants to know, is the very fact that it is undramatic -- you know, the everyone can do it stuff."

From a personal letter, dated December 14, 1937.

Q: "What do you think is the fascination of flying?"

A: "The most fascinating thing to me is the constant widening of the field, so that there is always something new to learn -- I enjoy the speed too, but keep at it mainly because I know so little -- and want to know a great deal, about it -- not only radio navigation, instrument flying etc., but the actual control of the ship under varying conditions -- small fields -- stunting, etc."

A:Q: "Do you think that women make good pilots?"

A: "Subject to the same qualifications as men -- yes -- but many women are unfitted physically and tempermentally, as are many men."

From a March, 1936 Questionnaire completed in her own hand

 
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