Amy Johnson, was a pioneering English aviator and was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia.
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-AAAH, a Gipsy Moth which was the first of her aircraft named “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 theScience 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.
Her first important achievement, after flying solo, was to qualify as the first British-trained woman ground engineer, the only woman in the world to do so at that time.
On 5 January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Prestwick via 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. Johnson died and her body was never recovered.
Whatever the circumstance of her death, nothing can diminish what Amy Johnson accomplished as a pioneer aviator. Despite her achievements, though, Amy clearly demonstrated that she was not a gifted or natural pilot. Her success sprang from an iron will and sheer determination to carry on, as well as masses of luck. And it would seem that good fortune turned her back on Amy that bitterly cold Sunday in January. Yet, perhaps that was the way Amy would have wanted it. She once told a friend, ‘I know where I shall finish up-in the drink. A few headlines in the newspapers and then they forget you.’ The 1930 hit songAmy says differently: ‘Yesterday you were a nonentity/Now you name will go down to posterity./Amy, wonderful Amy.’