Amy Johnson CBE,

(1 July 1903 – 5 January 1941)

Amy Johnson portrait

 

 

 

Amy Johnson was a pioneering English aviator. Flying solo or with her husband, Jim Mollison, she set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s. Johnson also flew in the Second World War as a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary where she died during a ferry flight

Johnson was born in Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire and was educated at Boulevard Municipal Secondary School (later Kingston High School) and the University of Sheffield, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. She then worked in London as secretary to the solicitor, William Charles Crocker. She was introduced to flying as a hobby, gaining a pilot's "A" Licence, No. 1979 on 6 July 1929 at the London Aeroplane Club under the tutelage of Captain Valentine Baker. In that same year, she became the first British woman to obtain a ground engineer's "C" licence.

Johnson's father, always one of her strongest supporters, offered to help her buy an aircraft and with funds from her father and Lord Wakefield she purchased G-AAAH, a second-hand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth she named "Jason", not after the voyager of Greek legend, but after her father's business trade mark.

Johnson achieved worldwide recognition when, in 1930, she became the first woman pilot, or in the language of the time, "aviatrix", to fly solo from England to Australia. Flying G-AAZV, her Gipsy Moth "Jason". She left Croydon, south of London, on 5 May of that year and landed in Darwin, Northern Territory, on 24 May after flying 11,000 miles (18,000 km). Her aircraft for this flight can still be seen in the Science Museum in London. She received the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE in recognition of this achievement, and was also honoured with the No. 1 civil pilot's licence under Australia's 1921 Air Navigation Regulations.

In July 1931, Johnson and her co-pilot Jack Humphreys became the first pilots to fly from London to Moscow in one day, completing the 1,760 miles (2,830 km) journey in approximately 21 hours. From there, they continued across Siberia and on to Tokyo, setting a record time for flying from Britain to Japan. The flight was completed in G-AAZV Havilland DH.80 Puss Mothde, named "Jason II"

In 1932, Johnson married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who had, during a flight together, proposed to her only eight hours after they had met. In July 1932, Johnson set a solo record for the flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa in a Puss Moth, "G-ACAB", named Desert Cloud, breaking her new husband's record.Her next flights were as a duo, flying with Mollison, she flew G-ACCV, named "Seafarer," a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon I nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, to the United States in 1933.However, their aircraft ran out of fuel and crash-landed in Bridgeport, Connecticut; both were injured.After recuperating, the pair was feted by New York society and received a ticker tape parade down Wall Street.

The Mollisons also flew in record time from Britain to India in 1934 in G-ACSP, named "Black Magic", a de Havilland DH.88 Comet as part of the Britain to Australia MacRobertson Air Race. They were forced to retire from the race at Allahabad because of engine trouble.

In May 1936, Johnson made her last record-breaking flight, regaining her Britain to South Africa record in G-ADZO, a Percival Gull Six.

In 1938, Johnson overturned her glider when landing after a display at Walsall Aerodrome in England, but was not seriously hurt. The same year, she divorced Mollison and soon afterwards, she reverted to her maiden name.

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In 1940, during the Second World War, Johnson joined the newly formed Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), whose job was to transport Royal Air Force aircraft around the country – and rose to First Officer. (Her ex-husband Jim Mollison also flew for the ATA throughout the war.) On 5 January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford, Johnson went off course in adverse weather conditions. Reportedly out of fuel, she bailed out as her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary.The crew of the HMS Haslemere spotted Johnson's parachute coming down and saw her alive in the water. Conditions were poor – there was a heavy sea and a strong tide, snow was falling and it was intensely cold. Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher, the commander of Haslemere, dived into the water in an attempt to rescue Johnson. However, he died in the attempt along with Johnson and her body was never recovered.

A memorial service was held for Johnson in the church of St. Martin in the Fields on 14 January 1941. Walter Fletcher was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal in May 1941.

There is still some mystery about the accident, as the exact reason for the flight is still a government secret and there is some evidence that besides Johnson and Fletcher a third person (possibly someone she was supposed to ferry somewhere) was also seen in the water and also died. Who the third party was is still unknown. Johnson was the first member of the Air Transport Auxiliary to die in service. Her death in an Oxford aircraft was ironic, as she had been one of the original subscribers to the share offer for Airspeed.

However, in 1999 it was reported that Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Sussex, claimed to have shot the heroine down when she twice failed to give the correct identification code during the flight. He said: "The reason Amy was shot down was because she gave the wrong colour of the day [a signal to identify aircraft known by all British forces] over radio." Mr. Mitchell explained how the aircraft was sighted and contacted by radio. A request was made for the signal. She gave the wrong one twice. "Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.

During her life, Johnson was recognised in many ways. In June 1930, Johnson's flight to Australia was the subject of a contemporary popular song, "Amy, Wonderful Amy", composed by Horatio Nicholls and recorded by Harry Bidgood, Jack Hylton, Arthur Lally, Arthur Rosebery and Debroy Somers. She was also the guest of honour at the opening of the first Butlins holiday camp, in Skegness in 1936. From 1935 to 1937, Johnson was the President of the Women's Engineering Society

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A collection of Amy Johnson souvenirs and mementos was donated by her father to SewerbyHall in 1958. The hall now houses a room dedicated to Amy Johnson in its museum. In 1974, Harry Ibbetson's statue of Amy Johnson was unveiled in Prospect Street, Hull where a girls' school was named after her (the school later closed in 2004). A blue plaque commemorates Johnson at Vernon Court, Hendon Way, in Cricklewood, London.

Buildings named in Johnson's honour include

  • "Amy Johnson Building" housing the department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield.
  • "Amy Johnson Primary School" situated on Mollison Drive on the Roundshaw Estate, Wallington, Surrey, which is built on the former runway site of Croydon Airport.
  • "The Hawthornes @ Amy Johnson" in Hull, a major housing development by Keepmoat Homes on the site of the former Amy Johnson School.

Street names named in her honour include

  • "Amy Johnson Avenue", a major arterial road in Darwin, Australia connecting Tiger Brennan Drive and the Stuart Highway to McMillan's Road
  • "Amy Johnson Avenue" in Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire
  • "Amy Johnson Way", close to Blackpool Airport, in Blackpool, Lancashire
  • "Amy Johnson Way" in the Rawcliffe area of York
  • "Johnson View" and "Mollison Rise" in Whiteley, Hampshire.
  • "Mollison Way" in Queensbury, London.

Other tributes to Johnson include a KLM McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 named in her honour and "Amy's Restaurant and Bar" at the Hilton Stansted, London named after her.

In 2011 the Royal Aeronautical Society established the annual Amy Johnson NamedLecture to celebrate a century of women in flightand to honour Britain's most famous woman aviator. Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of EasyJet, delivered the Inaugural Lecture on 6 July 2011 at the Society's headquarters in London. The Lecture is held on or close to 6 July every year to mark the date in 1929 when Amy Johnson was awarded her pilot’s licence.