Inspiring Women: Amy Johnson
AMY JOHNSON CBE (1 July 1903 – 5 January 1941)
Amy Johnson was a British aviator and the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia.
She was born in Yorkshire, the daughter of a local fish merchant and was lucky enough to be of the first generation of British women with access to further education. Amy graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of Sheffield before moving to London to work as a shorthand typist for a solicitor.
In late 1928, Amy was introduced to an exciting new hobby – flying. She threw herself into it, gaining her pilot and ground engineering licenses in 1929, the first British woman ever to be granted them.
Amy became preoccupied with the idea of breaking the record for fastest solo flight from England to Australia and began lobbying patrons for financial support. Her indulgent father provided some of the funds for a second-hand de Havilland Gipsy Moth – which she named “Jason”, after the trademark of the Johnson family fish business – and painted it bottle green with silver lettering.
She left Croydon, south of London, on 5 May 1929 and headed for Darwin, Australia. She could fly for around 13 hours before needing to land somewhere and refuel. For the first few ‘hops’ of the journey she was almost two full days ahead of the record holder, but unfortunately crash landed on the 13th May. In torrential rain, fading light and low on petrol, Amy Johnson landed very heavily on a field and ended up in a ditch. Luckily for her it was in the then-British colony of Burma. Even luckier, she was right next to a school of engineering. The locals rushed to make Jason airworthy again and Amy resumed her flight.
Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve and Amy soon realised she could never beat the full England to Australia record. She landed in Darwin on May 24th but at least gained the distinction of being the first woman to fly the route solo. She had flown over 11,000 miles and was feted by the Australian people, as well as being honoured with a CBE by the King. Flying over to Brisbane to continue the celebrations, Amy overshot the runway at the aerodrome and rendered poor Jason out of service once more. As a result, she needed to be ferried by another pilot onwards to Sydney whilst repairs on Jason were undertaken. The man who had the honour was the famed Scottish pilot, Jim Mollison. By the end of their eight hour flight, he had proposed to her; they were married in 1932.