Our his­tory

On 24 May 1930 avi­a­trix Amy John­son flew into Dar­win and the record books.

Australian Geographic - - Contents - PA­TRICK HSIAO

Amy John­son’s avi­a­tion record

AF­TER 19 DAYS of fly­ing, 26-year-old Bri­tish avi­a­trix Amy John­son touched down in Dar­win 88 years ago to world ac­claim. She had just be­come the first woman to fly solo from Eng­land to Aus­tralia.

Born on 1 July 1903 in Hull, Eng­land, Amy com­pleted a de­gree in eco­nomics in 1923 and worked as a sec­re­tary for a Lon­don so­lic­i­tor for the next six years. She be­came in­ter­ested in fly­ing in 1928 and took lessons at the Lon­don Aero­plane Club, earn­ing her pilot’s li­cence in 1929 af­ter com­plet­ing 85 fly­ing hours.

Less than a year later, she em­barked on her epic, record-break­ing 11,000mile (18,000km) jour­ney to Aus­tralia. Be­fore that flight, Amy hadn’t even flown over the English Chan­nel.

Con­vinced women pi­lots could be as pro­fi­cient as men, how­ever, Amy set off from Lon­don in her de Hav­il­land DH60 Gipsy Moth on 5 May 1930, fol­low­ing a route that two Aus­tralian lieu­tenants, Ray Parer and John McIn­tosh, had pre­vi­ously at­tempted un­suc­cess­fully.

Amy en­coun­tered sev­eral se­ri­ous hur­dles dur­ing the trip. Her first ma­jor ob­sta­cle came en route to Bagh­dad, Iraq, when she en­coun­tered strong winds and low vis­i­bil­ity, which forced her to land in the desert and wait for con­di­tions to clear. She also dam­aged her plane land­ing in Ran­goon, Burma (now Yangon, Myan­mar), and again in Surabaya, Java. De­spite these set­backs, The North­ern Ter­ri­tory Times re­ported that when she landed in Ran­goon “she was two days ahead of Bert Hin­kler’s record”. Hin­kler had flown from Lon­don to Dar­win in 16 days, but fur­ther de­lays for Amy meant she failed to break that record.

Her flight was, how­ever, a mo­men­tous achieve­ment in avi­a­tion and her ar­rival in Dar­win was greeted with in­tense lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion.When she later re­turned to the UK, Amy was wel­comed home by the then Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter

Ram­say Mac­Don­ald and made a Com­man­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

“What Amy did for the avi­a­tion in­dus­try was, she gave an enor­mous lift to the women pi­lots around Aus­tralia,” Aus­tralia’s first fe­male he­li­copter pilot, Rose­mary Arnold, ex­plained to Aus­tralian Geo­graphic. “She re­ally turned the cor­ner for them.”

Amy went on to cre­ate and break a string of fly­ing records dur­ing the 1930s and, like other suc­cess­ful avi­a­tors at that time, was feted like a movie star.

In the years that fol­lowed, Amy fa­mously mar­ried and di­vorced fel­low avi­a­tor Jim Mol­li­son, with whom she made sev­eral cel­e­brated flights.These in­cluded fly­ing in record time from Bri­tain to In­dia in 1934 as part of the Lon­don to Mel­bourne Air Race.

In World War II she flew for the Air Trans­port Aux­il­iary, pi­lot­ing planes from fac­to­ries to air­bases. Sadly, Amy died in 1941 while at­tempt­ing to de­liver a plane in poor weather con­di­tions, bail­ing out into the Thames River es­tu­ary. Her body was never re­cov­ered, and the de­tails of her death re­main a mys­tery.

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