Nancy Mayes was born on January 2, 1921, and grew up in Newberry, South Carolina, where she graduated from high school in 1938. She attended Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and taught high school for one year before beginning flying lessons in the summer 1943. She then worked in map drafting for the Tennessee Valley Authority in Columbia, South Carolina, until joining the W-10 class of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in May 1944. She had six months training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, and was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, for only a few weeks before thhe WASP was disbanded in December 1944.
Mayes went home to South Carolina and signed up to be an overseas staff assistant in the American Red Cross (ARC). Following orientation in Washington and Pennsylvania in August and September 1945, she was sent to Manila, Philippines, and assigned to the Leyte Island Air Strip canteen. Mayes was released from the ARC in 1946 after her second assignment on Manicani Island and took a short-term position with the Pacific Air Command of the U.S. Army (PACUSA) in Manila and then Tokyo. Mayes returned home in December 1946 to be with an ailing aunt.
Mayes worked at several jobs before finding employment with General Electric in January 1947. She entered the Air Force Reserves in 1951 as a second lieutenant, and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1978. She retired from GE in Charlotte, North Carolina, after a thirty-five year career. Mayes was a charter member of the Women Military Pilots Association, Inc. (now Women Military Aviators).