Tag Archives: Air Transport Auxiliary

Amy Johnson, C.B.E. (1 July 1903–5 January 1941)

“Flying Tonight.” Portrait of Amy Johnson, 1930. © Ruth Hollick, Melbourne.

Amy Johnson was born 1 July 1903 at Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the first of two daughters of John William Johnson and Amy Hodge Johnson. She attended The Boulevard Municipal Secondary School in Kingston before going on to the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. There, she majored in Economics and graduated in 1923 with Bachelor of Arts degree.

Miss Johnson worked as a secretary for a London law firm from 1925 to 1929. She joined the London Aeroplane Club at the de Havilland Aerodrome, Stag Lane, where one of her flight instructors was Captain Valentine Henry Baker, M.C., A.F.C., a World War I fighter pilot who would later co-found the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company. She trained in a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and on 9 June 1929, after 15 hours, 45 minutes of dual instruction, made her first solo flight.

Amy Johnson’s application for an Air Ministry Pilot’s Licence. (The National Archives Catalogue Ref: BT 217 /1208)

Johnson was issued a Pilot’s Certificate and License by the Air Ministry of Great Britain, 6 July 1929. This was an “A” Flying Certificate, for private pilots. She was also awarded a Certificate for Navigators, and in December 1929, became the first woman to be certified as an Engineer (aircraft mechanic).

With the financial assistance of her father and of Baron Charles Cheers Wakefield, the founder of the Wakefield Oil Company (better known as Castrol), she purchased a one-year-old de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane, c/n 804, registered G-AAAH. It had previously been owned by Air Taxis Ltd., of Stag Lane (a company formed by G.B.H. “Rex” Mundy and Captain W. Laurence Hope) and first registered 30 August 1928. Johnson named her airplane Jason, which was the name of her father’s business.

Miss Amy Johnson with her de Havilland DH-60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAAH, at Stag Lane, 5 May 1930. (Central Press/Getty Images)

On 5 May 1929, Amy Johnson and Jason took off from Croyden Aerodrome on a 19-day, 11,000-mile (17,700 kilometer) journey to Australia. She arrived at Darwin, Northern Territory, on 24 May.

Amy Johnson lands at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 24 May 1930. (Fox Photo/Getty Images)

For her accomplishment, she won a £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail, a London newspaper. The Australian Air Ministry issued her its Pilot Certificate and License Number 1. The International League of Aviators awarded her The Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for 1930.

Amy Johnson was awarded a prize of 10,000 by the Daily Mail for her flight. (DailyMail.com)
Amy Johnson with Jason.

In the King’s Birthday Honours, announced 3 June 1930, George V, King of the United Kingdom and British Dominions, appointed Amy Johnson a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Amy Johnson, CBE, by Sir John Longstaff, 1930. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

St. James’s Palace, S.W.1

3rd June, 1930.

     The KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday, to give orders for the following promotions in, and appointments to, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire :—

To be Commanders of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order :—

Miss Amy Johnson, in recognition of her outstanding flight to Australia.

Supplement to the London Gazette, Number 33611, Tuesday, 3 June, 1930, at Page 3481

Amy Johnson, C.B.E., July 1930. (Sasha)

Amy Johnson made a number of record setting long-distance flights, both solo and with other pilots, one of whom was James Allan Mollison. Mollison proposed marriage only a few hours after first meeting her. They married in July 1932. She soon after set a new record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”

Miss Amy Johnson, C.B.E., 10 May 1932. (Bassano, Ltd./© National Portrait Gallery, London)

The couple made a transatlantic flight, another flight from Britain to India, and competed in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. She was twice elected president of the Women’s Engineering Society.

1st April 1936: English aviator Amy Mollison, nee Johnson (1903 – 1941) wearing a woollen suit from the collection of flight clothes designed by Madame Schiaparelli for her solo flight from London to Cape Town. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
Amy Johnson’s record-breaking Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADZO, at Gravesend, Kent, 4 May 1936. (Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library)

In May 1937, Johnson, who was already a rated navigator, traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, in the United States, where she studied advanced navigation under P. V. H. Weems, the acknowledged world authority in celestial navigation. (Among other devices, Weems invented the Weems Mark II Plotter, which every student pilot the world over would immediately recognize.)

Amy Johnson, C.B.E., at Annapolis, Maryland, 3 May 1937. (Baltimore Sun)

Mr. and Mrs. Mollison divorced in 1938.

During World War II, Amy Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. (Fellow record-setter Jackie Cochran also flew for the ATA before returning to America to found the WASPs.) Johnson held the civilian rank of Flight Officer, equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant.

Airspeed AS.10 Oxford

On 4 January 1941, Flight Officer Johnson was assigned to take an Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk.II, registration V3540, from Prestwick, Scotland, to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire. She landed at RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire, and remained there overnight, visiting her sister.

The following morning, 5 January, although weather was very poor with falling snow limiting visibility, Johnson departed Squires Gate at approximately 10:30 a.m., to continue her assignment. Reportedly advised not to go, she insisted, saying that she would “smell her way” to Kidlington.

What took place thereafter is not known. There was speculation that she was unable to land at Kidlington due to poor weather and continued flying east, perhaps finally running out of fuel.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., Johnson bailed out of the Oxford and parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The airplane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.

Amy Johnson’s parachute was seen by the crew of HMS Haslemere, a barrage balloon tender assigned to the Channel Mobile Balloon Barrage in the Estuary. They attempted to rescue her and in the process, the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Edmund Fletcher, Royal Navy, dove into the water. In the cold temperatures and rough conditions, Fletcher died. For his effort to rescue Johnson, he was awarded the Albert Medal, posthumously.

HMS Haslemere, a 220.7 foot (69.82 meter), 832 gross ton, two-engine, twin-screw cargo steamer, built at Glasgow, 1925. (Roy Thornton Collection via Dover Ferry Forums)

Amy Johnson is presumed to have drowned. Her body was not recovered. Some documents related to her flight and personal belongings were found soon after.

In recent years, stories have emerged that the AS.10 was shot down after Johnson twice gave the incorrect response to a radio challenge. Tom Mitchell, an anti-aircraft gunner of the 58th (Kent) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, at Iwade, a small village along the shore of the Thames Estuary, said in 1999 that he shot her down under orders, firing 16 shells at the Oxford. The men of the battery were ordered to never mention the incident. There were contemporary reports that a destroyer had also fired on Johnson, though the Admiralty denied this.

More recently, former crewmen of HMS Haslemere have said that, rather than having drowned, Amy Johnson was killed by the ship’s propellers as it maneuvered to pick her up.

Official telegram notifying Amy Johnson’s parents of her death. (Royal Air Force Museum)

What is known, however, is that Flight Officer, Amy Johnson, C.B.E., died in the service of her country.

Amy Johnson, C.B.E., B.A., A.R.Ae.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.E., M.W.E.S., was a legendary pioneering aviator. Her accomplishments are far greater, and her skills as a pilot superior, to those of others who may have achieved greater public acclaim (especially in the United States). She is one of the great individuals in the history of aviation.

First Officer Amy Johnson, C.B.E., Air Transport Auxiliary, circa 1940. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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17–19 June 1942

Flight Captain Jackie Cochran, R.A.F. Air Transport Auxiliary. (Indian Palms Historical Society)

17–19 June 1942: Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran was the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean when she ferried a Lockheed Hudson from Canada to Scotland. The airplane was a twin-engine Lockheed Model 414 Hudson Mk.V (LR), Royal Air Force identification AM790 (Lockheed serial number 414-2872).

Recognizing that the War would require all available pilots, the United Kingdom’s Lord Beaverbrook and the United States Army Air Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Henry Harley (“Hap”) Arnold, felt the need to demonstrate that civilian women could serve as pilots of military aircraft in non-combat situations. Jackie Cochran, a famous record-setting pilot, was selected for the assignment.

Cochran had previously served as a Flight Captain ¹ with the Royal Air Force Air Transport Auxiliary. After a period of six months, she had returned to the United States at the request of General Arnold, where she served on his staff.

For this ferry flight, Captain Edgar Grafton Carlisle, O.B.E., was assigned as her navigator. The Hudson also carried a radio operator, today only remembered as Coates. Royal Canadian Air Force authorities felt that Miss Cochran was not strong enough to operate the Hudson’s hand brakes. The arrangement between her and the R.C.A.F. was that she would be allowed to fly the bomber as First Officer, but that Captain Carlisle would make all takeoffs and landings.²

Cochran, Carlisle and Coates departed Montréal, Québec, at 1920 G.M.T., 17 June, en route to Gander, Newfoundland. They flew 931 statute miles (1498 kilometers) in 5 hours, 4 minutes before landing at 0024 G.M.T., 18 June, and remained there overnight.

Page from Form 68 Watch Log, dated 18 June 1941. (Courtesy of Diana Trafford, Flights of History.)

The following evening, 18 June, at 1857 G.M.T., they took off to fly across the North Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 2,122 statute miles (3,415 kilometers).

Great Circle Route from Montreal to Gander, and on to Prestwick. (Great Circle Mapper)

In her autobiography, Cochran wrote:

     Flying the ocean at night didn’t mean much. We were above an overcast and hardly saw water. But just before daylight, we were heard or spotted by radar and suddenly through the darkness tracer bullets came up in front and around us. There was sudden consternation on board. Carlisle rushed up to me and the radio operator came running out of his compartment with his Very pistol. He opened a hatch and by firing a certain colored bullet gave the signal of the day but this really served no purpose because the light could not have been seen from the surface of the water anyway and the firing at us was probably coming from a German submarine or one of our own friendly ships. I thought maybe the pilots in the mass meeting in Montreal were right after all and the Germans were going to make a test case of me. Anyway, the tracer bullets stopped almost as soon as they started and no noticeable damage was done to the plane. After daylight, a hole opened up in the overcast and we saw a ship burning at sea, but could do nothing about it except to make a report by radio because we had no fuel to spare to enable us to go down and cruise around. Then we caught sight of the coast of Ireland in the distance and it kept creeping up on us and growing larger and larger and more friendly. From off the coast of Ireland to Prestwick, Scotland, was a tortuous air route. The route went one way and then another—without any real pattern—and the route was changed daily to make it difficult for enemy planes or submarines to intercept. At the end of twelve hours, we came to a stop on the runway. Carlisle, under the regulation, made the landing.

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1954. Chapter VI, Pages 102–103

They arrived at Prestwick, Scotland, at 0605 G.M.T., 19 June, after a flight of 11 hours, 8 minutes.

Page from Form 68 Watch Log, dated 19 June 1941. (Courtesy of Diana Trafford, Flights of History.)

Jackie Cochran would go on to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).

The image below shows the Hudson ferried by Jackie Cochran in service later in the War. It is painted in the Coastal Command camouflage scheme.

“Hudson Mark V, AM790 ‘E’, running up its engines at Bo Rizzo.” ³ (“No. 608 Squadron, Royal Air Force, 1942–1943.” Flight Lieutenant J.E. Garrett Collection, Imperial War Museum) © IWM HU 66682

The Lockheed Hudson was a twin engine light bomber developed by Lockheed from its Model 14 Super Electra civil transport. Both types were designed by the legendary Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The B-14L prototype made its first flight 10 December 1938 from the Union Air Terminal at Burbank, California. It was flown by two Royal Air Force officers, Squadron Leader James Addams and Squadron Leader Randle. The prototype (also identified as Model 214-40-01) was purchased by Great Britain and assigned the R.A.F. identification N7205.

The Hudson flown by Cochran, AM790, was an improved Model 414, Hudson Mk.V. This was identical to the earlier Mk.III, with the substitution of Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S3C4-G Twin Wasp engines. The bomber was flown by a single pilot, with a navigator/bombardier, radio operator and gunner.

“Hudson Mark V, AM753/G, on the ground at Eastleigh, Hampshire, following erection by Cunliffe Owen Aircraft Ltd. After trials with the Coastal Command Development Unit, the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment and the Royal Aircraft Establishment, AM753 was passed to No. 5 Operational Training Unit.” (Imperial War Museum, Royal Air Force Aircraft 1941–1959: ATP Collection (GSA 325). © IWM ATP 11116C )
Hudson Mark V, AM863 ‘OY-E’, of No. 48 Squadron RAF based at Wick, Caithness, flying south over Loch Hempriggs. (F/L John Henry Bertrand Daventry, RAF official photographer. © IWM CH 17908 )

The Hudson Mk.V was 44 feet 3⅞ inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.964 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). It had a maximum gross weight of 20,000 pounds.

The Mk.V was equipped with two air-cooled, supercharged 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-61) two-row fourteen-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. These had a normal power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 6,200 feet (1,890 meters) and 1,000 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m at 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The takeoff/military power rating was 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 4,900 feet (1,494 meters) and 1,050 horsepower at 13,100 feet (3,993 meters). The engines turned three-bladed propellers though a 16:9 gear reduction. They were 5 feet, 3.48 inches (1.612 meters) long, 4 feet, 0.19 inches (1.224 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,495 pounds (678 kilograms).

The Hudson had a cruise speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour, and maximum speed of 246 miles per hour (396 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet (1,981 meters). Its service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The Hudson was designed to carry four 250 pound ( klogram) or six 100 pound ( kilogram) bombs. It was armed with two forward-firing .303 Browning Machine Gun Mk.II mounted in the nose and operated by the pilot, with another two .303s on flexible mounts at the waist position, and 2 additional Mk.IIs in a power-operated Bolton Paul dorsal turret. Eight rockets could be carried under the wings.

409 Hudson Mark Vs were built. 207 of these were a long range variant, the Hudson Mk.V(LR).

During World War II, Hudson Mk.V(LR) AM790 served with No. 500 and No. 608 Squadrons, both units of the Coastal Command, Royal Air Force.

Hudson Mark III, V8977: cabin interior with pilot’s position on the left. Photograph taken at Eastleigh, Hampshire. Photographed 24 July 1942. (Imperial War Museum, Royal Air Force Aircraft 1941–1959: ATP Collection (GSA 325). © IWM ATP 10925F )

¹ An ATA Flight Captain was an equivalent rank to a Royal Air Force Squadron Leader.

² Jackie wrote: “The moment the plane became airborne Carlisle, having complied with instructions as to take-off, turned the single set of controls over to me.” —The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1954 Chapter VI at Page 102

³ Bo Rizzo was  an Allied airfield in Sicily.

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes

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