Home Page Haverhill News

Haverhill Poll
Haverhill Poll


Mailing List

Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Duxford Autumn Air Show

Friday, 18th September 2009.

Closing the UK’s air show season, Duxford’s Autumn Air Show features superb
modern and historic aircraft in an array of aerobatics and stunning displays.

The Autumn Air Show presents a historic commemoration of the role of the female
pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary with what is believed to be the first simultaneous
flight by female Spitfire and Hurricane pilots since July 1945.

Carolyn Grace (flying the Grace Spitfire) and Anna Walker (flying Historic Aircraft
Collection’s Hawker Hurricane) will commemorate the unsung heroism of the Women
with Wings, the female ATA pilots, in a poignant flying display featuring fly pasts and

Carolyn Grace is the only current female Spitfire pilot in the world and has been flying
the Spitfire since 1990. Carolyn has perfected a superb aerobatic display that combines the stirring sound of the Spitfire on the attack with the graceful poeticism of its aerobatic display.

Anna Walker is believed to be the first female pilot since the war to fly a Second World War Hawker Hurricane. Anna took to the air at a very early age, flying gliders in her early teens, then graduating to aerobatics and commercial flying. She has also displayed in a Bucker Jungmann, Harvard and P-51 Mustang.

Carolyn Grace and Anna Walker said, “The women of the ATA are very dear to our hearts and their extraordinary flying achievements against enormous odds should be honoured.”

The story of the women of the ATA is still one that is not widely known. In the 70th anniversary year of the outbreak of the Second World War, and building up to the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2010, it is fitting that the story of these courageous and gifted women is celebrated at Duxford’s historic airfield.

The ATA – Women with Wings
With the outbreak of the Second World War, it became apparent that most of the male
population were either working in strategically important reserve occupations or were
actively fighting for their country, and that there was, by consequence, a shortage of
skilled pilots.

The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was formed to resolve this problem, and throughout
the war, members of the ATA ferried 309,011 aircraft of 140 different types around the
country. To be considered as an ATA pilot, candidates needed to hold an A licence and a logbook containing a record of at least 250 flying hours. Only the flying ability of the candidate was important, which resulted in a team of pilots with incredibly varied backgrounds.

The ATA employed 1245 pilots during its four year period of operation. Pilots were
recruited from 28 different countries, with female pilots coming from as far afield as
Poland, Chile and New Zealand.The ratio of employment was 1077 men to 168 women. Despite being talented pilots in their own right, the women of the ATA faced sexist attitudes, low pay, limited facilities and a public outcry at their employment.

The women’s salary was equal to that of a Junior Officer, with no billeting expenses. The pay was not comparable to the skill of the pilot, as some of the men, on far higher salaries, were far less qualified than the women. In addition, the men were given a marriage allowance and were issued billets on RAF bases, whilst the women were not.

Despite this, 1 January 1940 saw the ‘First Eight’ women pilots enter service – all women with steely determination and a high level of flying experience, each having more than 600 hours of flying time. Seven of the eight were rated as flying instructors.

Amy Johnson, the famous record-breaking pilot, joined the ATA in May 1940. Like many of her female colleagues, Amy sometimes flew the ‘Anson taxis’, collecting other pilots from airfields and taking them back to base. During her first year with the ATA, she logged 275 flying hours.
The role of the women was to deliver the aircraft quickly and safely and to return home
as rapidly as possible, ready for the next delivery.

In order to avoid enemy interception, ATA pilots were not allowed to fly on instruments
or radio communication. Instead, they were ordered to remain ‘in sight of the ground
and clear of cloud’. This was an almost impossible task, given the rudimentary
weather forecasting of the time and the demands of ferrying the aircraft quickly and safely to their destination. The ATA pilots often flew in dreadful weather conditions,during which no other pilot would have attempted to take to the skies, delivering their aircraft safely to its destination.

En route, they would often encounter numerous barrage balloons, an added danger on a mission that would have been unnerving for even the most skilled pilot. In addition,they were often shot at, not only by enemy aircraft, but also by unwitting RAF pilots, who, in the midst of a frenetic dogfight, could easily mistake the ferried aircraft for the enemy. The ATA carried no ammunition, so were unable to protect themselves in the event of such an attack. It was a perilous mission that required not only flying talent but nerves of steel. 14 female ATA pilots, including the illustrious pilot Amy Johnson,lost their lives in ATA service.
During May 1941, the demand for aircraft grew tremendously, and it became necessary for the women to deliver a range of highly advanced aircraft, including the Lysander, Walrus, Spitfire and Mosquito. Instruction on how to fly these very different aircraft largely resulted from being handed a small folder of ferry pilot notes.

By 1944, the ATA had a total of 22 ferry pools across the country. Pilots were required to fly a mind-boggling range of aircraft, from trainers to fighters (including the Hurricane, Spitfire, Corsair, Mustang and the Avenger); twin-engine light aircraft (the Oxford and the Envoy); twin-engine operational aircraft (medium bombers); fourengine aircraft (the Lancaster, Stirling, B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator) and
Flying Boats (the Catalina and Sunderland).
With female pilots now ferrying all classes of aircraft (except flying boats), their skill
was acknowledged with the awarding of pay equal to that of their male counterparts. It
is believed that this ground-breaking decision made the ATA the first equal opportunities employer in history and certainly in the aviation industry.

Lettice Curtis was the first of only 11 ATA women to fly a four-engine bomber. In a single day’s flying, Lettice flew two trainer aircraft, a Spitfire, a Mitchell and Mosquito and a Stirling – one aircraft from evry aircraft classification. Lettice was a superb pilot
with amazing fortitude.

Lord Balfour, the Under Secretary of State for Air, said “The men and women of the Air Transport Auxiliary were civilians in uniform who played a soldier’s part in the Battle for
Britain and who performed, throughout the war, a role of supreme importance to the RAF."

”Grandma Flew Spitfires – but She is Not Forgotten"
One of the largest collections of ATA memorabilia is held by Maidenhead Heritage
Centre in Berkshire, close to the ATA’s wartime headquarters at White Waltham. To
make this collection of logbooks, diaries, uniforms and flying equipment accessible to
the public, the world’s first dedicated ATA Study Centre and Exhibition is being
developed by the Centre’s volunteers. It is hoped that this unique project will be
completed by autumn 2010.

Haverhill Online News

Comment on this story

[board listing] [login] [register]

No comments have been posted for this news entry.


You must be logged in to post messages. (login now)

© Haverhill-UK | Accessibility | Disclaimer