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Archives biographies: Amy Johnson 1903 - 1941

Black and white photograph of Amy Johnson in her Puss Moth Plane 1932 from NEAST 92-07-02-19  Amy Johnson was born 1 July 1903 in Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. She was educated there and graduated from Sheffield University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics.

Initially introduced to flying as a hobby it did not take her long to gain a pilot’s A licence in July 1929. By December 1929 she was granted the ground engineer’s C licence, the first woman in the country to obtain this.

In recognition of this achievement she was elected a member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) in March 1930.

With the financial assistance of her father and Lord Wakefield Amy was able to purchase G-AAAH, a second-hand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth which she called ‘Jason’ after her father’s business trade mark.

1930 was an extraordinary year for Amy with a solo flight from Croydon to Australia. On 5 May 1930 Amy set off from Croydon Aerodrome but a combination of mechanical problems and poor weather conditions meant that she did not break the record. However, she landed in Darwin, Australia on 24 May, 19 ½ days later, the first woman to fly solo to Australia.

In the same year she was conferred with the honour of CBE by King George V and made an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Engineers (SoE) as well as an Honorary Member of the Guild of Air Pilots. (The SoE is one of the predecessor organisations of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. See the PDF link to the IET family tree chart for more information).

IET family tree (1.49 MB)

In March 1931 the SoE presented Amy with the President's Gold Medal for the year 1930 for her paper on, “The attention that I gave to Jason’s Engine during my flight.” On 21 October 1930 Amy Johnson delivered an address at an SoE dinner to commemorate her lone flight to Australia in which she read this paper. It was recorded in the SoE Transactions from 1930 and the full account of the dinner and speech can be read by clicking on the PDF link:

Black and white photograph of Amy Johnson in front of a plan at Rangoon from NAEST 92/07/02/16  In July 1931 Amy set another record. With her co-pilot C.S. Humphrey, she was the first to fly from London to Moscow in one day, completing the 1,760 miles journey in 21 hours. From there, they continued across Siberia and on to Tokyo, setting a record time for flying from Britain to Japan in August 1931. The whole 7,000 mile trip was completed in 10 days. They returned in September of that year.

The following year, in September 1932, Amy was elected Vice-President of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

In November 1932 Amy set a new world record for a solo flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa, in 4 days 6 hours and 54 minutes. She returned home in December 1932.

Amy married aviator Jim Mollison 1933 but divorced in 1938.

In July 1933 she flew to America, with Mr. Mollison, attempting a non-stop flight east to west across the Atlantic. They crashed at Connecticut having run out of fuel. Amy spent several months in America studying aviation design and manufacture.

In 1934 she was a pilot for Hillman Airways London-Paris (daily trips) and in September of that year she was elected President of WES. A month later, in October 1934, she broke the record for a flight to India during the London-Melbourne Air Race.

In 1935 Amy inaugurated a series of Aeronautical Debates for WES.

Advertisement for Castrol oil showing Amy Johnson and a list of her recent flights. From the Woman Engineer Journal March 1933.  May 1936 saw Amy regain her London to Cape Town record. Her solo flight broke three records, completing the journey in 3 days, 6 hours, 26 minutes.

In that same year she was also awarded the Royal Aero Club’s Gold Medal.

The following year she spent back in America and returned to England shortly after. In October 1940, during the Second World War, Amy enlisted in the newly formed Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), flying aircraft from factories to RAF airbases and around the country. She was a senior pilot in the Women’s Section and rose to First Officer.

However, tragically on 5 January 1941 Amy took off in thick fog in an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Prestwick via Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford and went off course. Her plane crashed into the Thames Estuary. A nearby ship, HMS Haslemere, reportedly spotted her parachute in the water but severe weather conditions thwarted any rescue attempt. Her body was never recovered.

A memorial service was held for Amy in the church of St. Martin in the Fields, London, on 14 January 1941.

Amy Johnson died on 5 January 1941 after a distinguished aviation career. Her life can be summed up as this, as recorded in the WES Journal, The Woman Engineer, a tribute to Amy Johnson,

“She demonstrated for all time that women can plan daring feats, can pay close attention to detail, can superintend and carry out a prescribed programme, can overcome obstacles as they are encountered, can learn from misfortune, can face disappointment without loss of courage.”


Other sources of interest:

From the IET Archives

Read the full tribute edition to Amy Johnson in The Woman Engineer Journal (Vol.5 No. 6 March 1941) which includes her last article to the Journal, "A day's work in the A.T.A":

Dame Caroline Haslett, friend of Amy Johnson and President of WES, wrote an appreciation of Amy Johnson shortly after her death in 1941. Speaker icon Caroline Haslett's BBC tribute to Amy Johnson side 1 Speaker icon Caroline Haslett's BBC tribute to Amy Johnson side 2 Speaker icon Caroline Haslett's BBC tribute to Amy Johnson side 3 Dame Caroline Haslett recorded an interview about Amy Johnson in 1952 for the BBC's Women's Hour. Each audio file has been digitised from original vinyl records held in theIET Archives and last approximately 3 minutes 30 seconds.

Amy Johnson’s correspondence with WES, held in the IET Archives, has been digitised and is available to view as individual letters.

Read a blog written about the Amy Johnson correspondence held in the IET Archives.

In March 1931 Amy Johnson was presented with the SoE's Gold Medal and made an Honorary Fellow. The SoE Transaction from 1931 records this event.

Web links

Women's Engineering Society

Women in engineering online exhibition includes information on the history of WES.