Sunday, March 03, 2013

Two women, different backgrounds, one goal

by Martha Lockwood
Air Force News Service

3/3/2013 - FORT MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- Two women, from completely opposite economic, social and cultural backgrounds, earned common ground during the early days of World War II to set a path for women in aviation that would steamroll into women's roles today that are without boundaries.

Jacqueline Cochran was born in 1906 in a cotton-fields-and-sawmill small town in western Florida. It is said that she grew up in such poverty, that she never owned a pair of shoes until she was nine. As she grew, she loved the sight of an airplane, and she firmly believed that one day she would fly. In 1932 she earned her pilots license, and she not only flew, she soared. At the time of her death in 1980 she held more international speed, distance and altitude records than any other pilot, male or female.

Nancy Harkness Love was born in 1914, the daughter of a wealthy physician, in Houghton, Mich. By the time she was 16 she earned her pilot's license, and during her college years at Vasser, she earned extra money by taking students for airplane rides. She married Robert Love, and Air Corps Reserve major, and in early 1942, when he was called to active duty in the Munitions Building in Washington as the deputy chief of staff of the Ferrying Command, Nancy piloted her own plane for her daily commute to the Operations Office of the 2nd Ferrying Group, Domestic Division, near Baltimore.

The Domestic Division was commanded by Col. William H. Tunner, and Nancy Love convinced him of the idea of using experienced women pilots to supplement the existing pilot force. Although Col. Tunner's proposal to the Army Air Corps was denied, he appointed her to his staff as Executive of Women Pilots in 1942. Within a few months she had recruited 29 experienced female pilots to join the newly created Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS).

That same year, Jacqueline Cochran was appointed Director of Woman's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) for the United States.

The WFTD and WAFS were merged on August 5, 1943, to create the paramilitary WASP organization at 120 air bases across America. The female pilots of the WASP ended up numbering 1,074, each freeing a male pilot for combat service and duties. They flew over 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft. The WASP was granted veteran status in 1977, and given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

"I might have been born in a hovel but I am determined to travel with the wind and the stars," said Cochran.