Flying Sorcery


amy johnsonAmy Johnson (1903 - 1941)

Amy Johnson was born July 1, 1903 in Hull. She earned a BA in Economics from Sheffield University, and eventually went to work as a secretary for a soliciter in London.

She began flight instruction at the London Aeroplane Club in September 1928. On June 9, 1929 she received her 'A' pilot's license, and on December 10, 1929 she became the first woman to earn a British Ground Engineer's license. For a time she was the only female Ground Engineer in the world.

In 1930 Amy bought a used DH Gipsy Moth from W.L. Hope of Air Taxi's Ltd. for £600. Registered as G-AAAH, it was an open cockpit biplane and the 4th production 60G Gipsy Moth. It had a 100 horsepower Gipsy I engine, maker's number 804. She painted it green and named it Jason.

With fewer then 100 logged hours, and flying the Moth for only the third time, Amy set off from Croydon on May 5, 1930 bound for Australia. Her plane required repair a number of times along the way, including fixing a damaaged undercarrige, replacing a broken propeller,and repeatedly mending the wings.

She landed in Darwin on May 24, 1930 just after 3:00pm ... a flight of 11,000 miles. She was the first woman to fly alone to Australia.

Johnson's accomplishment was met with a great deal of enthusiasm, and she was showered with acclaim and gifts. Among these was a new closed cabin Puss Moth given to her by the deHavilland Aircraft Company. (She named it Jason II)

Her rewards were not only financial. The King named her Commander of the British Empire.

In July 1931 she piloted Jason II (with C.S. Humpheries as co-pilot) from London, across Russia, to Tokyo and back to England, setting a new record for the trip.

In 1932 she married fellow pilot James Mollison. In the same year she beat his record time to Capetown, making the trip in 4 days, 6 hours and 54 minutes. She bettered her husband's time by 10 hours, 28 minutes. She retrieved this record in May 1936 flying a Percival Gull.

James Mollison and Amy Johnson set several records over the next few years, including flying a DH Dragon non-stop from Pendine Sands, South Wales to the United States in 1933. They were divorced in 1938.

During WWII Amy Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary as a ferry pilot. On January 5, 1941 she was flying a twin-engined Oxford from the north of England to London when clouds closed in on her. The airplane had neither radio nor radar. While she was searching for an airfield her fuel tanks ran dry. She jettisoned the door (the standard method for abandoning that type of aircraft) and stepped out with her parachute. She died in the estuary of the Thames.

A boat's crew thought they saw a man fall into the water as well. Investigations revealed that what they thought was another person was the jettisoned door.


Tiger Moth

The DH 82 Tiger Moth was the most successful of all light aircraft at the time. Over 5,000 were built in England, and almost 3,000 more in the Commonwealth.


Faith, Hope and Charity

The Gloster Gladiator was the last British biplane fighter. Designed in the 1930's, it had an enclosed cockpit and cantilever landing gear. During WWII it equiped no. 263 Squadron. Three legendary biplanes, Faith, Hope and Charity, provided the initial defending force over Malta.


Flying Circus

The reference to "Flying Circus" actually has a double meaning. Traveling airshows popular during the early days of aviation were called "Flying Circuses". These shows featured wing walkers, aerobatics, etc., and many of aviation's early pioneers put in time barnstorming with these shows to earn money. Many of those who were not performing in them were children who were inspitred by them.

The term "Flying Circus" may also refer to Baron Manfred von Richthofen, "the Red Baron", and his "Flying Circus" in WWI.