She started out studying psychology, with hopes of becoming a schoolteacher. But after her brother took her on her first flight in 1935, she was hooked. She flew over 100 types of aircraft over her career, she served in WWII, she owned and operated the first and for a long time, only helicopter company in Juneau. She recently celebrated her 100th birthday at her home in Carlsbad, California.
Nancy Livingston Stratford, nee Miller, trained as an “aviatrix” — female aviator — at Oakland Airport and in 1942 was recruited for the Air Transport Auxiliary of the Royal Air Force in the U.K.
The ATA was a group of American women pilots responsible for flying aircraft to various locations while they weren’t in combat. These women, “performed a vital function in delivering planes from factories to squadrons, shuttling planes back for repairs, and providing transportation and communications in wartime Britain,” according to the ATA website.
That meant that ATA pilots would have to fly dozens of kinds of planes, often with little or no training in that particular aircraft, and often through terrible weather. Stratford kept a list of the different models of planes she flew on ear leather flying cap, according to an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune. Of all the planes she flew for the ATA, the Supermarine Spitfire was her favorite.
After the war she returned to California to find work as a commercial pilot, but the industry was dominated by men and finding a job was difficult. But she didn’t let that stop her flying. In 1947, she became the first woman on the west coast and the fourth woman in the world to receive her helicopter rating, according to the archives at Texas Woman’s University. She earned her seaplane rating that same year.
After working as a commercial helicopter pilot in Oregon, she and her husband, Arlo Livingston, moved to Juneau and in 1960 founded Livingston Copters, at what is now NorthStar Helicopters on the Douglas Highway.
The Livingstons cleared trees for the landing pad and hangar, and lived in a small trailer on the property. As the business expanded, other homes were built for pilots to live in with their families.
The Livingstons sold their business in 1978 and moved to Anacortes, Washington. Nancy was forced to give up her pilot’s license in 1970 because of hearing loss caused by so many years of flying. Her husband died in 1986, but Nancy soon reconnected with the man she was engaged to during the war.
Milton Stratford had been engaged to Nancy during her time in the service but according to family friend Dot Wilson she decided against the marriage saying, “I was having too much fun to be engaged.” Milton’s first wife had passed away and after reconnecting with Nancy, they married in 1992 and relocated to San Diego.
In 2008 Nancy and the other surviving members of the ATA were flown to England and given an honorary medal by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“It is right we have recognition for those women who did so much to protect and defend the airports and other military services during the war,” Brown told the House of Commons, according to the Telegraph newspaper.
In 2011, she published her memoirs, “Contact! Britain!” under the name Nancy Miller Livingston Stratford.
She had actually written the memoirs during her time in the service but never published them, according to her niece Margaret Miller, who also edited the book.
After so many years of flying Nancy is almost completely deaf, but even at age 100 remains witty and vibrant, writing daily. She lives in a retirement community with her poodle in the Southern California beach town of Carlsbad.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.