Amy Johnson

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This article is about the British aviator. For the American actress, see Amy Jo Johnson.
Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson portrait.jpg
Amy Johnson c. 1930
Born (1903-07-01)1 July 1903
Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died 5 January 1941(1941-01-05) (aged 37)
Thames Estuary
Cause of death Unknown
Resting place Body never recovered
Nationality British
Education Bachelor of Arts in Economics
Alma mater University of Sheffield
Occupation Aviator
First Officer ATS
Parent(s) John William Johnson and Amy Hodge Johnson
Awards Segrave Trophy (1932)
Amy Johnson in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, July 1930
Amy Johnson and Jason in Jhansi, India in May 1930
Amy Johnson at the Kalgoorlie War Memorial, July 1930

Amy Johnson, CBE (1 July 1903 – 5 January 1941) was a pioneering English aviator and was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia. Flying solo or with her husband, Jim Mollison, she set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s. She flew in the Second World War as a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary and died during a ferry flight.[1]

Early life[edit]

Amy Johnson was born in Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, and 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.[2] She then worked in London as secretary to a solicitor, William Charles Crocker. She was introduced to flying as a hobby, gaining a pilot's "A" Licence, No. 1979, on 6 July 1929 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.[3]

Aviation career[edit]

Johnson's father, always one of her strongest supporters, offered to help her buy an aircraft.[4] With funds from her father and Lord Wakefield she purchased G-AAAH, a second-hand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth she named "Jason", not after the voyager of Greek legend, but after her father's business trade mark.[Note 1]

Johnson achieved worldwide recognition when, in 1930, she became the first woman pilot, or in the language of the time, "aviatrix", to fly solo from England to Australia. Flying G-AAAH, the first of two aircraft she named "Jason", she left Croydon, south of London, on 5 May and crashlanded[5] in Darwin, Northern Territory, on 24 May after flying 11,000 miles (18,000 km). This aircraft can be seen in the Science Museum in London. She received the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE in recognition of this achievement, and was also honoured with the No. 1 civil pilot's licence under Australia's 1921 Air Navigation Regulations.[6][Note 2]

In July 1931, Johnson and her co-pilot Jack Humphreys, became the first pilots 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 flying from Britain to Japan. The flight was completed in G-AAZV de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth, named "Jason II".[7]

On 29 July 1932, Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison married.

In 1932, Johnson married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who had, during a flight together, proposed to her only eight hours after they had met. In July 1932, Johnson set a solo record for the flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa in a Puss Moth, "G-ACAB", named "Desert Cloud", breaking her new husband's record.[7]

Her next flights were with Mollison as a duo. In July 1933, they first flew G-ACCV, named "Seafarer," a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon I[7] nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, heading to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.[8] Their aircraft ran out of fuel and crash-landed at Bridgeport Municipal Airport (now Sikorsky Memorial Airport) in Stratford, Connecticut; both were injured.[9] After recuperating, the pair were feted by New York society and received a ticker tape parade down Wall Street.[3]

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. They were forced to retire from the race at Allahabad because of engine trouble.[7]

In May 1936, Johnson made her last record-breaking flight, regaining her Britain to South Africa record in G-ADZO, a Percival Gull Six.[3]

In 1938, Johnson overturned her glider when landing after a display at Walsall Aerodrome in England, but was not seriously hurt.[10] The same year, she divorced Mollison. Soon afterwards, she reverted to her maiden name.[11]

Second World War[edit]

In 1940, during the Second World War, Johnson joined the newly formed Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), whose job was to transport Royal Air Force aircraft around the country – and rose to First Officer. Her ex-husband Jim Mollison also flew for the ATA throughout the war.[1]


On 5 January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Prestwick via Blackpool 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.

The crew of HMS Haslemere[Note 3] 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.[12] Lt Cdr Walter Fletcher, the commander of Haslemere, dived into the water in an attempt to rescue Johnson.[12] He failed in the attempt and died in hospital days later. 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, although the crewman did not observe this to occur, but only supposed that it might.[13] This claim has not been verified as Johnson's body was never recovered.

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.[12]

As a member of ATA with no known grave, she is (under the name Amy V. Johnson) commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.[14]

Disputed circumstances[edit]

There is still some mystery about the accident, as the reason for the flight is still a government secret and there is some evidence that besides Johnson and Fletcher a third person (possibly someone she was supposed to ferry somewhere) was also seen in the water and also died. Who the third party was is still unknown. Her death in an Oxford aircraft was ironic, as she had been one of the original subscribers to the share offer for Airspeed.[15]

It has been more recently hinted her death was due to friendly fire. In 1999 it was reported that Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Sussex, claimed to have shot the heroine 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."[16]

Honours and tributes[edit]

The KLM McDonnell Douglas MD-11 named "Amy Johnson"

During her life, Johnson was recognised in many ways. 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.[17]

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).[18] 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,[19] and the second, on 30 September, was unveiled by Maureen Lipman near Hawthorne Avenue, Hull, close to Johnson's childhood home.[20] A blue plaque commemorates Johnson at Vernon Court, Hendon Way, in Cricklewood, London.[21]

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.[22]
  • "The Hawthornes @ Amy Johnson" in Hull, a major housing development by Keepmoat Homes on the site of the former Amy Johnson School.

Other tributes to Johnson include a KLM McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 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.

In 2011 the Royal Aeronautical Society established the annual Amy Johnson Named Lecture[23] to celebrate a century of women in flight[Note 4] 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.

In popular culture[edit]

  • 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 Johnson inspired the song "Flying Sorcery" from Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart's album, Year of the Cat (1976).[24]
  • Amy! (1980) is the subject of and also is the title of an avant-garde documentary written and directed by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey and noted semiologist Peter Wollen.
  • In the 2007 British film adaption of Noel Streatfeild's 1936 novel Ballet Shoes, Petrova is inspired by Johnson in her dreams of becoming aviatrix.
  • Queen of the Air (2008) by Peter Aveyard is a musical tribute to Johnson.[25]
  • A Lone Girl Flier and Just Plain Johnnie (Jack O’Hagan) sung by Bob Molyneux.[26]
  • Johnnie, Our Aeroplane Girl sung by Jack Lumsdaine.[27]
  • In 2013, Doctor Who Magazine ran a comic story 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 take her to the planet Cornucopia.[28]
  • Let Me Fly the title track of the 2016 album by Paula Ryan is an original composition that is biographical in regard to Amy Johnson.[29]
  • Lone Flyer is a play by Ade Morris premiered and toured by the Watermill Theatre and transferred to the Croydon Warehouse Theatre in 2001, telling the story of Amy Johnson from the perspective of her final flight and disappearance.
  • The character Worrals in the series of books by Captain W.E.Johns was modelled on Amy Johnson.[30]
  • Little Wings, a 2016 book about Johnson aimed at young children, by F.J. Beerling.[31]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Her father was a partner in the Andrew Johnson Knuditzon Fish Merchants.
  2. ^ A de Havilland DH 60G Gipsy Moth G-ABDV, named "Jason III" was given to Johnson on her return to England.[7]
  3. ^ Haslemere was a small, former ferry that in Royal Navy wartime service was being used as a barrage balloon ship.
  4. ^ In 1911, Hilda Hewlett became the first British woman to earn her pilot's licence.[23]


  1. ^ a b "8 Unsung Women Explorers." Our Amazing Planet,, 30 April 2012. Retrieved: 30 April 2012.
  2. ^ Dunmore 2004, pp. 194–195.
  3. ^ a b c Aitken 1991, p. 440.
  4. ^ Dunmore 2004, p. 195.
  5. ^ A. C. Marshall, ed. (1934). Newnes Golden Treasury. George Newnes Ltd. p. 488 (photo plate opposite). The photograph was taken at Insein, and shows how the plane was damaged in landing. 
  6. ^ "Brearley Pilot's Licences." Treasures of the Battye Library, State Library of Western Australia. Retrieved: 15 July 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Amy Johnson." The Science Museum (South Kensington. UK), 2013.
  8. ^ Ignasher, Jim. "Stratford, CT – July 23, 1933." New England Aviation History, 30 December 2015. Retrieved: 9 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Fly ocean, crash near goal." Chicago Daily Tribune, 24 July 1933. Retrieved: 9 January 2016.
  10. ^ "Helliwells aircraft component factory at Walsall airport." Black Country Bugle, 25 November 2010. Retrieved: 19 May 2013.
  11. ^ Smith 2004, pp. 312–313.
  12. ^ a b c "Heroes Of Air Raids Civil Defence Awards, Rescues In Face Of Danger." The Times (London), Issue 48928, 17 May 1941, p. 2. Retrieved: 27 December 2012.
  13. ^ "Flying pioneer Amy Johnson 'chopped to pieces by Royal Navy ship's propeller', historian says", Daily Telegraph, by Sophie Jameson & Patrick Foster, 6 January 2016, retrieved 18 August 2016
  14. ^ "CWGC Casualty Record: Johnson, Amy V. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved: 10 January 2016.
  15. ^ McKee 1982, pp. 139–152, 293.
  16. ^ Gray, Alison. "I think I shot down Amy Johnson." The Scotsman, 6 February 1999.
  17. ^ "Past Presidents." Women's Engineering Society. Retrieved: 21 November 2010.
  18. ^ "Amy Johnson." Hull History Centre via Retrieved: 14 December 2010.
  19. ^ "Aviator Amy Johnson: Statue unveiled at Herne Bay". BBC News. BBC. 17 September 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  20. ^ "Amy Johnson statue unveiled in Hull". BBC News. BBC. 30 September 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  21. ^ "Blue Plaque – Johnson, Amy (1903–1941)". English Heritage. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  22. ^ "Amy Johnson Primary School.", 2010. Retrieved: 25 December 2010.
  23. ^ a b Bossom, Emma. "Carolynn McCall to speak at inaugural Amy Johnson Named Lecture." Royal Aeronautical Society's Amy Johnson Named Lecture via Retrieved: 9 June 2011.
  24. ^ Dyer, Kim. "Review of 'Flying Sorcery'." Archived 13 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved: 27 October 2010.
  25. ^ "Queen of the Air: Peter Aveyard's tribute to Amy Johnson." Retrieved: 24 September 2010.
  26. ^ National Film and Sound Archive of Australia: Songs about Amy Johnson in "Our Heroes of the Air." The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Retrieved: 1 January 2014.
  27. ^ "National Film and Sound Archive of Australia: Songs about Amy Johnson; Our Heroes of the Air." National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Retrieved: 18 May 2012.
  28. ^ "Doctor who Magazine #263.", 24 July 2013. Retrieved: 1 January 2014.
  29. ^, Retrieved: 23 February 2016
  30. ^ "The blaggers guide to Worrals of the WAAF". The Independent. 28 July 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  31. ^ "Hull hero Amy Johnson inspires Little Wings children's book". Hull Daily Mail. 7 July 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2016. 


  • Aitken, Kenneth. "Amy Johnson (The Speed Seekers)." Aeroplane Monthly, Vol. 19, no. 7, Issue no. 219, July 1991.
  • Dunmore, Spencer. "Undaunted: Long-Distance Flyers in the Golden Age of Aviation" Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2004. ISBN 0-7710-2937-3
  • Gillies, Midge. "Amy Johnson, Queen of the Air", London, Phoenix Paperback, 2004. ISBN 0753817705.
  • McKee, Alexander. Great Mysteries of Aviation. New York: Stein & Day, 1982. ISBN 0-8128-2840-2.
  • Moolman, Valerie. Women Aloft (The Epic of Flight). Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1981. ISBN 0-8094-3287-0.
  • Nesbitt, Roy. "What did Happen to Amy Johnson?" Aeroplane Monthly (Part 1), Vol. 16, no. 1, January 1988, (Part 2) Vol. 16, no. 2, February 1988.
  • Smith, Constance Babington. Amy Johnson. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press Ltd., 2004. ISBN 978-0-75093-703-0.
  • Sugden, Philip. Amy's Last Flight: The Fate of Amy Johnson in 1941. Beverley, East Yorkshire: Highgate Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-902645-62-9
  • Turner, Mary. The Women's Century: A Celebration of Changing Roles 1900–2000. Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK: The National Archives, 2003. ISBN 1-903365-51-1.

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