VOL. 21 January ISSUE YEAR 2020
Off the Beaten Track
in Vol. 21 - January Issue - Year 2020
On A Whim
With her Gipsy Moth
A heros welcome in Brisbane
The young woman was feeling restless on that Sunday afternoon. She didn’t feel like staying home and so, on a whim, she jumped on the first bus passing by. She wound up at the Stag Aerodrome in North London, where for hours she watched in fascination as planes took off and landed. This experience would change the rest of her life.
Amy Johnson graduated with an economics degree from the University of Sheffield in 1925. A broken romance led her to a new life in London working as a secretary for a solicitor, but she knew she would not be content with a desk job for very long. After that first chance encounter with airplanes, she started spending all her spare time at the airport. In September 1928, Amy began flying lessons at the London Aeroplane Club and earned her pilot’s license the following year. As she continued to accumulate experience flying powered aircraft, she joined the Yorkshire Gliding Club and trained as a glider pilot. Flying had become her consuming passion.
In 1929 Amy Johnson qualified as the first female ground engineer in the world, and soon after quit her secretarial job to work full-time as a mechanic at the airport.
By then, her ambitions knew no limits. In 1930, Amy startled her family and friends by announcing that she wanted to become the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. The only problem was that she didn’t have an airplane. With financial help from her father and from Charles Wakefield, the Lord Mayor of London and wealthy businessman, Amy bought a second-hand de Havilland Gipsy Moth. It was a single-engine biplane, twenty-four feet long with a thirty-foot wingspan. The Moth had a wooden frame, a plywood-covered fuselage and fabric-covered surfaces. Its cruising speed was eighty-five miles per hour. Amy named the plane Jason, after her father’s business trademark.
Amy Johnson spent the first weeks of 1930 meticulously planning her route. Her aircraft had a range of 320 miles, and missing her refueling stops would have meant disaster. She had only basic maps and long stretches of her itinerary would take her over uncharted land. With incredible audacity, Amy planned the most direct route by simply placing a ruler on the map. Up until then, her longest solo flight had been from London to Hull, a journey of less than two hundred miles.
The Jason took off from Croydon Airport on May 5, 1930. There was no radio on board. Amy could not count on any reliable weather information and her only navigational instruments were a compass and a wristwatch. The aircraft’s open cockpit offered no protection against wind, rain and cold. When Amy reached India in a record six days, the world suddenly took notice. Newspaper readers around the world avidly kept track of her progress. Overcoming sandstorms, monsoons and damage to a wing and the propeller, Amy landed in Darwin, Australia on May 24th. She then flew on to her final destination Brisbane, where a rapturous crowd gave her a hero’s welcome. She had flown 11,000 miles over a period of twenty days.
Amy Johnson set numerous aviation records in the following years. At the beginning of WWII, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. Her job was to ferry aircraft from factory airstrips to RAF bases around the country. Amy’s life ended tragically on January 5, 1941, while she was attempting to deliver an aircraft to an RAF base near Oxford. Either because she ran out of fuel after going off course in bad weather or because of mechanical failure, Amy was forced to bail out as she was flying over the Thames River estuary. A passing ship convoy spotted Amy’s parachute coming down and heard her cries for help as she floated in the rough sea. One of the ship’s crew attempted to throw ropes out to Amy, but she was unable to reach them. She disappeared under the waves and her body was never recovered.
By Giovanni Gregorat, Contributing Editor MFN