Amy Johnson CBE, (1 July 1903 – 5 January
1941) was a pioneering English aviatrix.
Amy Johnson and Jason
Jhansi, India in 1930
Flying solo or with her husband,
, Johnson set numerous
long-distance records during the 1930s. Johnson flew in the
Second World War
as a part of the
Air Transport Auxiliary
where she died during a ferry flight.
was born in Kingston upon
Hull and attended Boulevard Municipal Secondary School
(later Kingston High
From there she went to the University of Sheffield
, where she
graduated with a Bachelor of Arts
. She then worked in
London as secretary to the solicitor William Charles Crocker.
was introduced to flying as a hobby, gaining a pilot's A Licence
No. 1979 on 6 July 1929 at the London Aeroplane Club
tutelage of Captain Valentine
. In that same year, she became the first British woman to
gain a ground engineer's C License.
Her father, always one of her strongest supporters, offered to help
her buy an aircraft. With funds from her father and Lord Wakefield
she purchased G-AAAH, a second-hand De
Havilland Gipsy Moth
named "Jason", not after the voyager of Greek legend, but after her
father's trade mark (he was a partner in the Andrew Johnson
Knuditzon Fish Merchants).
Johnson achieved worldwide recognition when, in 1930, she became
the first woman to fly solo from Britain, to Australia
. Flying her "Jason" Gipsy Moth, she left
Croydon, south of London, on 5 May of that year and landed
Australia on 24 May after flying 11,000 miles.
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
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-mile journey in
approximately 21 hours. From there, they continued across Siberia and on to
Tokyo, setting a record time for flying from England to
The flight was completed in a De Havilland Puss Moth
she married famous Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who
had, during a flight together, proposed to her only eight hours
after they had met.
1932, she set a solo record for the flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa in a Puss
Moth, breaking her new husband's record. Her next flights were
as a duo, flying with Mollison, she flew G-ACCV "Seafarer," a
De Havilland Dragon
Rapide 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 were feted by New York society and received a ticker tape
parade down Wall Street.
Mollisons also flew in record time from Britain to India in 1934 in a
de Havilland DH.88 Comet as part
of the Britain to Australia MacRobertson Air Race.
forced to retire from the race at Allahabad due to 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
In 1938, Johnson divorced Mollison. Soon after, she reverted to her
Second World War
In 1940, during the Second World War, Johnson joined the newly
, whose job was to
transport Royal Air Force
around the country – and rose to First
. (Her ex-husband Jim Mollison also flew for the ATA
throughout the war.)
January 1941, while flying an Airspeed
Oxford from Blackpool to RAF
went off course in poor weather. She drowned after
bailing out into the Thames Estuary.
Although she was seen alive in the water, a
rescue attempt failed and her body was never recovered. The
incident also led to the death of her would-be rescuer, Lt Cmdr
Walter Fletcher of . 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 drowned. 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
However, in 1999 it was reported that Tom Mitchell, from
Crowborough, Kent, 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."
Honours and tributes
- In June 1930, Johnson's flight to Australia was the subject of
a contemporary popular song composed by Horatio Nicholls and
recorded by Harry Bidgood, Jack Hylton, Arthur Lally, Arthur
Rosebery and Debroy Somers.
was the guest of honour at the opening of the first Butlins holiday camp, in Skegness in 1936.
- In 1942 a film of Johnson's life, They Flew Alone, was made by
director-producer Herbert Wilcox,
starring his wife Anna Neagle as
Johnson, and Robert Newton as
Mollison. The movie is known in the United States as Wings and the Woman.
1958, a collection of Amy Johnson souvenirs and mementos was
donated by her father to Sewerby Hall. 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, Kingston-upon-Hull.
- Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart
sings about her in his song "Flying Sorcery" from his 1976 album,
Year of the Cat.
- A girls' school in Kingston-Upon-Hull was named after her, but
closed in 2004.
- The building housing the department of Automatic Control and
Systems Engineering at The University of Sheffield is named after
- She was the subject of a £500,000 question on the UK version of
Wants to Be a Millionaire?. The contestant failed by
answering that the aircraft in which she flew solo from Britain to
Australia was called "Pegasus" (the correct answer is
- A primary school on Roundshaw Residential Estate (formerly
Croydon Airport) is named after her.
- A KLM McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 is named in
- The Wetherspoons bar at Doncaster Airport is called "The Amy
Johnson Avenue" is a major arterial road in Darwin,
Australia connecting the Stuart Highway to Old McMillan's
Johnson Way", close to Blackpool Airport, in Blackpool, Lancashire, in the UK is named in
Johnson Way" in the Rawcliffe area of York, is named in
- "Mollison Way" in Queensbury, London is also named in her
- "Queen of the Air" by Peter Aveyard is a musical tribute to
- "Amy Johnson Building" at the University of Sheffield on Mappin
- "Amy Johnson pioneering aviator." Hull Local
Studies Library, Hull City Council. Retrieved: 26 October
- Aitken 1991, p. 440.
- "Brearley Pilot's Licences, Treasures of the Battye
Library." State Library of Western
Australia. Retrieved: 15 July 2007.
- McKee 1982, pp. 139–152, 293.
- Gray, Alison. "I think I shot down Amy Johnson." The
Scotsman, 6 February 1999.
- Stewart, Al. "Flying Sorcery." Retrieved: 15 May 2008.
of the Air: Peter Aveyard's tribute to Amy Johnson
- Aitken, Kenneth. "Amy Johnson (The Speed Seekers)."
Aeroplane Monthly, Vol. 19, no. 7, Issue no. 219, July
- Moolman, Valerie. Women Aloft (The Epic of Flight).
Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1981. ISBN
- McKee, Alexander Great Mysteries of Aviation. New
York: Stein & Day, 1982. ISBN 0-8128-2840-2.
- Nesbitt, Roy. "What did Happen to Amy Johnson?" Aeroplane
Monthly (Part 1) Vol. 16, no. 1, January 1988, (Part 2) Vol.
16, no. 2, February 1988.
- Turner, Mary. The Women's Century: A Celebration of
Changing Roles 1900-2000. Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK: The
National Archives, 2003. ISBN 1-903365-51-1.