“I am an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. The first to qualify as a ground engineer. The first to fly to Australia single-handed. A million people lined the streets of London when I came home. I waved to them from an open-topped car like the queen, the queen of the air.”
Today Google celebrates pioneering British aviator Amy Johnson. The first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, Johnson became a symbol of perseverance and a feminist inspiration around the world.
Breaking into the male-dominated field of aviation proved difficult but not impossible for Johnson. Though she was not a naturally gifted pilot, Amy possessed an unshakable resilience that inspired future generations. In fact, before setting her first world flying record in 1930, Amy’s strong determination and drive qualified her to be the first British-trained woman ground engineer — for a brief time, she was the only woman in the world to hold that job title.
English pilot Amy Johnson was born in Hull 114 years ago today on July 1, 1903. She studied Economics at Sheffield University, a school mostly for men. After getting the bachelor degree, she became the secretary of William Charles Crocker, a solicitor in London. When she was 25, she wanted to learn to fly, and saved all that she could from being a secretary to pay for the lessons.
She became one of very few women to gain a pilot’s licence in 1929 and, because she was also very mechanically minded, became the first British woman to receive an aircraft ground engineer’s license. She purchased a second-hand De Havilland Moth biplane for £600.
The following year she set off on her incredible journey. With very little flying experience – just one flight from London to Hull, she made the decision to fly and navigate to Australia. At times the conditions were atrocious. During a gale she had to land in the desert, then stack her luggage against Jason, her plane, to prevent it being blown away. This didn’t deter her and she declared, “This is just an ordinary flight, except that it is longer. Every woman will be doing this in five years’ time.”
Despite her great lack of experience she completed the flight. However, due to exhaustion she crashed the aeroplane on landing in Brisbane. She was awarded a CBE by George V for her efforts and a £10,000 prize form the Daily Mail.
What made it so remarkable was that Amy was the first woman to have made the trip unaccompanied. Her biplane is preserved in the Science Museum in London.
The intrepid adventurer followed up her astounding 1930 feat in a biplane by setting records for the fastest flights from Britain to Japan, South Africa, and India. She also became the first person to fly from London to Moscow in a single day.
Johnson quickly joined the ranks of other top female aviators, such as Amelia Earhart and Florence “Pancho” Barnes and it was her husband’s record that she broke for the fastest solo flight from London to Cape Town. Throughout her career, she made headlines as the “British Girl Lindbergh”and “The Long Girl Flyer.”
But she ran out of records to set and decided to serve Britain in the Second World War by delivering planes around the country for the RAF, eventually becoming ‘First Officer’.
Amy married Scottish Aviator, Jim Mollison, in 1932. He proposed her only 8 hours after they had met on a flight together. Along with Mollison she flew in a DH Dragon non-stop from South Wales to the United States in 1933. Competing in the England to Australia air race, they flew non-stop in record time to India in 1934 in a DH Comet. The couple were divorced in 1938.
She died in 1941 after crashing into the Thames Estuary while flying a plane for the ATA. Amy flew through snow and freezing fog, with a broken compass, to deliver a new Airspeed Oxford plane from Blackpool to Oxfordshire. She had defied orders to stay put. The flight should have taken 90 minutes but four hours later she crashed off the Kent coast near Herne Bay.
When her plane ran critically short of fuel she spotted the Royal Navy convoy in the Thames and bailed out, for the first and last time in her glittering career, hoping to be rescued.
Seconds after opening her parachute she crashed into the water. Her fingers turned white as she waved frantically for help, before she vanished. The exact circumstances of Johnson’s death aged just 37 remain shrouded in mystery.
Amy was beacon to generations of girls who dreamed of breaking free from domestic drudgery for a life of romance and adventure.
Her legacy lives on, even 75 years after death. Budget airline easyJet has named a plane after her and doubled the number of female pilots this year at its Amy Johnson Flying Initiative.
To celebrate the spirit of this fearless flyer, today’s Doodle reminds us that there is no challenge too high or too far. Happy 114th birthday, “wonderful Amy”!