WASP History

In May of 1940, twenty-six year old Nancy Harkness Love wrote Gen. Bob Olds, organizer of the Air Transport Command (ATC), with a plan to use women pilots to ferry planes for the ATC. The youngest woman in the US to earn her private pilot’s license and qualify for a commercial license, Love wrote, “I’ve been able to find 49 women pilots I can rate as excellent material … and there are probably at least 15 more that are up to handling pretty complicated stuff.”  At first the idea of using women pilots was dismissed but by 1942, as the shortage of male pilots became acute, Gen. Olds decided the time was right to put Love’s plan into action. Most of his colleagues including Maj. William Tunner, commander of the Ferrying Division, were skeptical or flatly believed that women were incapable of flying military aircraft.

Nancy Harkness Love with her plane

In September of 1942, Nancy Love was appointed as the director of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) under Maj. Tunner and given a chance to prove her skeptics wrong. Nancy initially sent telegrams out to 83 of America’s best women pilots recruiting them as civilian pilots to serve in the Ferry Command. The women had to be between 21 and 35 years of age, logged at least 500 hours in the air, hold a commercial license, a 200-horsepower engine rating, and have recent cross-country flying experience. Twenty-eight women met these rigorous standards and answered the call to serve their country during wartime in the Air Transport Command.

Stationed at New Castle Army Air Base, these twenty-eight highly qualified, elite civilian women pilots, “The Originals” as they would come to call themselves, began ferrying light aircraft and primary trainers such as Stearmans and PT-19 Fairchilds. They quickly went on to ferry larger aircraft including pursuit planes like the P-38 and P-51.

On August 5, 1943, the WAFS and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), under the direction of Jacqueline Cochran, were merged into one organization called the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Jacqueline was named Director of Women Pilots. Nancy Love was named WASP Executive of the Ferrying Division of ATC. Collectively, these women surpassed all expectations and proved that women could fly military aircraft with as much skill and competency as their male counterparts. The WASP program was deactivated on December 20, 1944.