May 24, 1930 – Britain’s most famous aviatrix, and a contemporary of Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson (1903 – 1941), set her objective to fly solo from England to Australia, and to beat Bert Hinkler’s record of 16 days. At first, her efforts to raise financial support failed, but eventually her father and oil magnate Lord Wakefield shared the £600 purchase price of a used DH Gypsy Moth (G-AAAH).
Amy set off alone from Croydon, England on May 5, 1930, and landed in Darwin, Australia on May 24, a flight distance of 11,000 miles. She was the first woman to fly solo to Australia, and came home to the United Kingdom to a hero’s welcome which culminated in her award of a C.B.E. (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).
This was to be one of many records. In July 1931, she set an England-to-Japan record in a Puss Moth with Jack Humphreys, followed in July 1932 with a solo flight from England to Cape Town. In May 1936, she set a record from England to Cape Town, solo, in a Percival Gull, a flight to retrieve her 1932 record.
In 1932, she married Scottish Aviator, Jim Mollison, also recognized for an important first in flight. He was the first person to fly the Atlantic from east to west. She then flew and set records with her husband for a few years. They divorced in 1938.
During the Second World War, in 1939, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary and flew ferrying aircraft from factory airstrips to RAF bases. It was on one of these routine flights on 5 January 1941, that Amy crashed into the Thames estuary and was drowned. Her body was never recovered. She was the first person from the Air Transport Auxiliary to be killed in active service.
Interesting Life Facts:
- Amy Johnson’s first instructor told her she would never become an aviator. And in fact it did take her 16 hours of dual flying — twice as long as was typical — before she would take her first solo flight. She finally earned her first pilot’s license in July of 1929.
- In 1929, she became the first British woman to qualify as a ground engineer.
- Mystery still surrounds Johnson’s death as the reason for the journey remains a government secret. In 1999, it was reported that Tom Mitchell from Crowborough, Surrey, claimed to have shot down the plane. He claimed that Amy failed to say the right identification code, which was changed every day for all British forces so troops on the ground would know they were British. Apparently, she failed to give the code twice and was shot down as an enemy aircraft.