A Woman I Admire Writing Competition Spring 2018
It was a man's world. So too were the skies. And this was no truer than at a time when they were clouded by the fog of war, bearing witness to the fiercest of battles and unrivaled courage. But strapped within those thunderous machines, masked by flying caps and goggles, were a group of pilots who flew for more than just their country. They flew for their rights.
Amy Johnson was one such aviator.
As a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary, she was charged with the ferrying of aircraft to any of the air force's stations. Often this meant a plane she was unfamiliar with in weather that was far from ideal. Armed with little more than a flying manual documenting its limits and ideals, she would navigate her way through a journey of hazards only to land to a welcome of open disbelief.
They expected a man, and they'd wait for a man, often asking ‘where's the pilot?’ or ‘who are you secretarying for’ whenever a female pilot would enter the office. It was as if the feat defied logic in their eyes and women had never graced a cockpit. But Johnson had an aviation pedigree that any pilot would be envious of, regardless of gender.
The economics graduate had originally gained employment in London as a legal secretary, only venturing into the clouds by chance. Starting out as a hobby flyer, Johnson gained her pilot's licence at the London Aeroplane Club in 1929 under the captainship of Valentine Baker.
She rose to fame only a year later when the “aviatrix” demonstrated true grit in becoming the first female pilot to fly single handedly between England and Australia. It was an achievement that didn't go unnoticed, earning her a CBE in George V's 1930 Birthday Honours as well as the Harmon Trophy, which recognises a world great aviator.
Fourteen months later she and a co-pilot were the first to complete a flight from London to Moscow in one day. And they didn't stop there. The pair forged on over Siberia to reach Japan, breaking the record for flying from Britain to the Pacific island nation.
These journeys continued throughout the 1930s with husband, Jim Mollison, regularly partnering Johnson.
Her Air Transport Auxiliary adventure began in 1940 and she soon soared to the rank of First Officer. But despite her prior experience, the dangers that were so prevalent in the service proved far too great for Johnson to overcome and the flight between Prestwick to Oxford on January 5th, 1941, resulted in a fatal crash into the Thames Estuary.
However, although her life was cut short at the age of 37, her legacy continues to inspire to this day. For had it not been for women like Johnson who undertook those pioneering flights then perhaps the career would be gender-exclusive today as stereotypes would have been allowed to continue unchallenged. In essence, she opened the skies up equally to all and paved the way for others to follow.