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Amy Johnson

Black and white portrait photograph taken around 1930 of Amy Johnson, wearing aviator attire; googles, leather cap, leather and wool flying jacket
Amy Johnson c. 1930
Born (1903-07-01)1 July 1903
Disappeared 5 January 1941(1941-01-05) (aged 37)
Thames Estuary, near Herne Bay, Kent, England
Status Believed to have died in an aviation accident
Education Boulevard Municipal Secondary School
Alma mater University of Sheffield
Occupation Aviator and Engineer
Jim Mollison
(m. 1932; div. 1938)
Awards Segrave Trophy (1932)

Amy Johnson CBE (born 1 July 1903 – disappeared 5 January 1941) was a pioneering English pilot who was the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia.

Flying solo or with her husband, Jim Mollison, she set many long-distance records during the 1930s. She flew in the Second World War as a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary and disappeared during a ferry flight. The cause of her death has been a subject of discussion over many years.

Early life

Born in 1903 in Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, Amy Johnson was the daughter of Amy Hodge, granddaughter of William Hodge, a Mayor of Hull, and John William Johnson whose family were fish merchants in the firm of Andrew Johnson, Knudtzon and Company. She was the eldest of three sisters, the next in age being Irene who was a year younger.

Johnson was educated at Boulevard Municipal Secondary School (later Kingston High School) and the University of Sheffield, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. She then worked in London as secretary to a solicitor, William Charles Crocker. She was introduced to flying as a hobby, gaining an aviator's certificate, No. 8662, on 28 January 1929, and a pilot's "A" Licence, No. 1979, on 6 July 1929, both at the London Aeroplane Club under the tutelage of Captain Valentine Baker. In that same year, she became the first British woman to obtain a ground engineer's "C" licence.

Johnson was a friend and collaborator of Fred Slingsby whose Yorkshire based company, Slingsby Aviation of Kirbymoorside, North Yorkshire became the UK's most famous glider manufacturer. Slingsby helped found Yorkshire Gliding Club at Sutton Bank and during the 1930s she was an early member and trainee.


Amy Johnson 1930-06-14
Johnson in her Gipsy Moth leaving Australia for Newcastle, 14 June 1930

Johnson obtained the funds for her first aircraft from her father, who was always one of her strongest supporters, and Lord Wakefield. She purchased a secondhand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth G-AAAH and named it Jason after her father's business trade mark.

Johnson achieved worldwide recognition when, in 1930, she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. Flying G-AAAH Jason, she left Croydon Airport, Surrey, on 5 May and landed at Darwin, Northern Territory on 24 May 11,000 miles (18,000 km). Six days later she damaged her aircraft while landing downwind at Brisbane airport and flew to Sydney with Captain Frank Follett while her plane was repaired. Jason was later flown to Mascot, Sydney, by Captain Lester Brain. G-AAAH "Jason" is now on permanent display in the Flight Gallery of the Science Museum in London.

She received the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE in George V's 1930 Birthday Honours in recognition of this achievement, and was also honoured with the No. 1 civil pilot's licence under Australia's 1921 Air Navigation Regulations.

Amy Johnson and Jack Humphreys visit to Japan
Amy Johnson and Jack Humphreys visit to Japan

Johnson next obtained a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth G-AAZV which she named Jason II. In July 1931, she and co-pilot Jack Humphreys became the first people to fly from London to Moscow in one day, completing the 1,760 miles (2,830 km) journey in approximately 21 hours. From there, they continued across Siberia and on to Tokyo, setting a record time for Britain to Japan.

In 1932, Johnson married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who had proposed to her during a flight together some eight hours after they had first met. In July 1932, Johnson set a solo record for the flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa in Puss Moth G-ACAB, named Desert Cloud, breaking her new husband's record. De Havilland Co and Castrol Oil featured this flight in advertising campaigns.

Amy Johnson jason india
Amy Johnson and Jason in Jhansi, India in May 1930
Mollison and Johnson
On 29 July 1932, Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison married.

In July 1933, Johnson together with Mollison flew the G-ACCV, named "Seafarer," a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon I nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, heading to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York. The aim was to take “Seafarer” to the starting point for the Mollison's attempt at achieving a world record distance flying non-stop from New York to Baghdad.

Running low on fuel and now flying in the dark of night, the pair made the decision to land short of New York. Spotting the lights of Bridgeport Municipal Airport (now Sikorsky Memorial Airport) in Stratford, Connecticut they circled it five times before crash landing some distance outside the field in a drainage ditch. Both were thrown from the aircraft but suffered only cuts and gashes. After recuperating, the pair were feted by New York society and received a ticker tape parade down Wall Street.

The Mollisons also flew, in record time, from Britain to India in 1934 in G-ACSP, named "Black Magic", a de Havilland DH.88 Comet as part of the Britain to Australia MacRobertson Air Race, but were forced to retire from the race at Allahabad because of engine trouble.

In September 1934, Johnson (under her married name of Mollison) became the youngest President of the Women's Engineering Society, having been vice-president since 1934. She was active in the society until her death.

On 4 May 1936, Johnson made her last record-breaking flight, starting from Gravesend Airport & regaining her Britain to South Africa record in G-ADZO, a Percival Gull Six. The same year she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club.

In 1938, Johnson overturned her glider when landing after a display at Walsall Aerodrome in England, but was not seriously hurt. The same year, she divorced Mollison. Soon afterwards, she reverted to her maiden name.

Johnson began to explore other ways to make a living through business ventures, journalism and fashion. She modelled clothes for the designer Elsa Schiaparelli and created her a travelling bag sold under her name.

In 1939 Johnson found work flying with the Portsmouth, Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation Company, piloting short flights across the Solent and flying as a target for searchlight batteries and anti-aircraft gunners to practice on. The company’s aircraft were taken over by the Air Ministry in March 1940 and Johnson was served notice of redundancy alongside all other pilots in the company as all the aircraft were requisitioned for the war effort. She received a week's pay and a further four weeks pay of £40 as a redundancy package.

Second World War

Two months later in 1940, during the Second World War, Johnson joined the newly formed Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which transported Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. She rose to First Officer under the command of her friend and fellow pilot Pauline Gower. Her former husband also flew for the ATA throughout the war. Johnson described a typical day in her life in the ATA in a humorous article (published posthumously in 1941) for The Woman Engineer journal.


Writing a last letter to her friend Caroline Haslett, on New Years Day 1941, "I hope the gods will watch over you this year, and I wish you the best of luck (the only useful thing not yet taxed!)." On 5 January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Prestwick via RAF Squires Gate to RAF Kidlington near Oxford, Johnson went off course in adverse weather conditions. Reportedly out of fuel, she bailed out as her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay.

A convoy of wartime vessels in the Thames Estuary spotted Johnson's parachute coming down and saw her alive in the water, calling for help. Conditions were poor – there was a heavy sea and a strong tide, snow was falling and it was intensely cold. Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher, the Captain of HMS Haslemere, navigated his ship to attempt a rescue. The crew of the vessel threw ropes out to Johnson but she was unable to reach them and was lost under the ship. A number of witnesses believed there was a second body in the water. Fletcher dived in and swam out to this, rested on it for a few minutes then let go. When the lifeboat reached him he was unconscious and as a result of the intense cold he died in hospital days later. Johnson's watertight flying bag, her log book and cheque book later washed up and recovered near the crash site.

A memorial service was held for Johnson in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 January 1941. Walter Fletcher was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal in May 1941.

Disputed circumstances

In 1999, it was reported that Johnson's death may have been caused by friendly fire. Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Sussex, claimed to have shot Johnson's aircraft down when she twice failed to give the correct identification code during the flight. Mitchell explained how the aircraft was sighted and contacted by radio. A request was made for the signal. She gave the wrong one twice. "Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened."

In 2016, Alec Gill, a historian, claimed that the son of a crew member stated that Johnson had died because she was sucked into the blades of the ship's propellers; the crewman did not observe this to occur, but believes it is true.

As a member of the ATA with no known grave – her body was never recovered – Johnson is commemorated (under the name Amy V. Johnson) by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.

ATA Memorial Runnymede taken on 06Jul2021
Memorial for UK Air Transport Auxiliary who went missing presumed dead during World War 2

Honours and tributes

McDonnell Douglas MD-11 - KLM - PH-KCA - EHAM
The KLM McDonnell Douglas MD-11 named "Amy Johnson"
Amy Johnson Building
Amy Johnson Building, University of Sheffield

In June 1930, Johnson's flight to Australia was the subject of a contemporary popular song, "Amy, Wonderful Amy", composed by Horatio Nicholls and recorded by Harry Bidgood, Jack Hylton, Arthur Lally, Arthur Rosebery and Debroy Somers. She was also the guest of honour at the opening of the first Butlins holiday camp, in Skegness in 1936. From 1935 to 1937, Johnson was the President of the Women's Engineering Society.

A collection of Amy Johnson souvenirs and mementos was donated by her father to Sewerby Hall in 1958. The hall now houses a room dedicated to Amy Johnson in its museum. In 1974, Harry Ibbetson's statue of Amy Johnson was unveiled in Prospect Street, Hull where a girls' school was named after her (the school closed in 2004). In 2016 new statues of Johnson were unveiled to commemorate the 75th anniversary of her death. The first, on 17 September, was at Herne Bay, close to the site she was last seen alive, and the second, on 30 September, was unveiled by Maureen Lipman near Hawthorne Avenue, Hull, close to Johnson's childhood home.

In 2017 The Guardian listed the Amy Johnson bronze as one of the "best female statues in Britain". A blue plaque commemorates Johnson at Vernon Court, Hendon Way, in Childs Hill, London NW2. She is commemorated with a green plaque on The Avenues, Kingston upon Hull. She is commemorated with another blue plaque in Princes Risborough where she lived for a year.

Amy Johnson Comet Restoration Centre
The Amy Johnson Comet Restoration Centre, 2017

Buildings named in Johnson's honour include

  • "Amy Johnson Building" housing the department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield.
  • "Amy Johnson Primary School" situated on Mollison Drive on the Roundshaw Estate, Wallington, Surrey, which is built on the former runway site of Croydon Airport.
  • "The Hawthornes @ Amy Johnson" in Hull, a major housing development by Keepmoat Homes on the site of the former Amy Johnson School.
  • Amy Johnson Comet Restoration Centre at Derby Airfield, where the Mollison's DH.88 Comet Black Magic is being restored to flying condition.

Other tributes to Johnson include a KLM McDonnell-Douglas MD-11, and after that aircraft was retired, a Norwegian Air UK Boeing 787-9, named in her honour, and "Amy's Restaurant and Bar" at the Hilton hotels at both London Gatwick and Stansted airports are named after her.

"Amy Johnson Avenue" is a main road running northwards from Tiger Brennan Drive, Winnellie, to McMillans Rd, Karama, In Darwin, Australia.

"Amy Johnson Way" is a road linking commercial premises in Blackpool, Lancashire, UK, adjacent to Blackpool Airport. It is also the name of a road in Clifton Moor, York.

"Johnson Road" is one of the roads built on the site of the former Heston Aerodrome in west London.

In 2011 the Royal Aeronautical Society established the annual Amy Johnson Named Lecture to celebrate a century of women in flight and to honour Britain's most famous woman aviator. Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of EasyJet, delivered the Inaugural Lecture on 6 July 2011 at the Society's headquarters in London. The Lecture is held on or close to 6 July every year to mark the date in 1929 when Amy Johnson was awarded her pilot's licence.

Over a six-month period, inmates of Hull Prison built a full-size model of the Gipsy Moth aircraft used by Johnson to fly solo from Britain to Australia. In February 2017 this went on public display at Hull Paragon Interchange.

In 2017, Google commemorated Johnson's 114th birthday with a Google Doodle. In 2017 the airline Norwegian painted the tail fin of two of its aircraft with a portrait of Johnson. She is one of the company's "British tail fin heroes", joining Queen singer Freddie Mercury, children's author Roald Dahl, England's World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore and aviation entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker.

A mural reading QUEEN OF THE AIR (which was a nickname the British press gave Johnson) was painted in Cricklewood railway station to commemorate the hundred-year anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote in the United Kingdom.

St Mary's Church in Beverley, East Yorkshire announced their intention of installing a stone carving of Amy Johnson as part of a programme of celebrating women in the restoration of the stonework of the medieval church in 2021. The other eight figures will include fellow engineer and WES member Hilda Lyon, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Seacole, Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, Helen Sharman and Ada Lovelace.

In popular culture

Johnson's life has been the subject of a number of treatments in film and television, some more accurately biographical than others. In 1942, a film of Johnson's life, They Flew Alone, was made by director-producer Herbert Wilcox, starring Anna Neagle as Johnson, and Robert Newton as Mollison. The movie is known in the United States as Wings and the Woman. Amy! (1980) was an avant-garde documentary written and directed by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey and semiologist Peter Wollen. A 1984 BBC television film Amy starred Harriet Walter in the title role. In the 1991 Australian television miniseries The Great Air Race, aka Half a World Away, based on the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race, Johnson was portrayed by Caroline Goodall.

Johnson earned a passing mention in other works such as the 2007 British film adaption of Noel Streatfeild's 1936 novel Ballet Shoes, wherein the character Petrova is inspired by Johnson in her dreams of becoming an aviator.

In music, Johnson inspired a number of works, including the song "Flying Sorcery" from Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart's album, Year of the Cat (1976). A Lone Girl Flier and Just Plain Johnnie (Jack O'Hagan) sung by Bob Molyneux, and Johnnie, Our Aeroplane Girl sung by Jack Lumsdaine. Queen of the Air (2008) by Peter Aveyard is a musical tribute to Johnson.

More fictionalised portrayals include a Doctor Who Magazine comic story in 2013 entitled "A Wing and a Prayer", in which the time-travelling Doctor encounters Johnson in 1930. He tells Clara Oswald her death is a fixed point in time. Clara realises what's important is that it appears Amy died. They save her from drowning then took her to the planet Cornucopia. The character Worrals in the series of books by Captain W.E. Johns was modelled on Amy Johnson.


See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Amy Johnson para niños

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