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Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson, CBE, (1st July 1903 – 5thJanuary 1941) achieved global recognition in the 1930’s through her numerous world record-breaking flights achieved at London Airport, Croydon.  Johnson was one of the most celebrated personalities of the decade and became a leading role model for women’s equality across the globe.  She was at the forefront of a group of record-breaking women aviators operating from London Airport, Croydon including Jean Batten and the Honourable Mrs Victor Bruce.

Amy was born in Kingston-upon-Hull and graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. On 6th July 1929 at the London Aeroplane Club Amy gained her pilot’s “A” Licence, No. 1979, and in same year became the first British woman to obtain a ground engineer’s “C” licence.

Inspired by Bert Hinkler’s record-breaking flight to Australia, Amy set out to beat the record. Persuading her father and Lord Wakefield to fund the project, she purchased a second-hand de Havilland Gypsy Moth G-AAAH and named it “Jason”.

On the 5th May 1930 Amy departed London Airport, Croydon to beat the record. A virtual unknown, the flight was seen off by little more than a dozen people. By the time Amy had reached Karachi, Britain was entranced by the determination of Amy and she was front page news. Despite adverse weather and aircraft technical problems, Amy battled on and arrived at Darwin, Australia on the 24th May, 19.5 days and 11,000 miles from Croydon. Amy had set a world record as the fastest woman to Australia.

Amy Johnson’s helmet, which was donated to Croydon Airport Society by her sister Molly Jones

Amy arrived back at Croydon on 4th August as a national heroine. Thousands of people flocked to London Airport, Croydon to welcome her home. South London came to a standstill as an estimated one million people lined the 12 mile route from Croydon Airport to the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. She was awarded the C.B.E. from King George V, received the Harmon Trophy and £10,000 from the Daily Mail. Songs were composed about her with “Amy, Wonderful Amy” being one of the most popular songs of the decade.

Amy’s record-breaking flights continued throughout the 1930’s. Other record flights include:

  • 1931- London, Croydon to Moscow flight in 21 hours
  • 1931- London, Croydon to Tokyo, Japan with fastest return flight
  • 1932- New record time from London, Croydon to Cape Town, South Africa

Amy Johnson married Jim Mollison on the 29th July 1932. The marriage proposal came after Jim and Amy had flown together and only eight hours after they first met.

The Mollisons received an enormous amount of media attention and were known as “The Flying Sweethearts”. Amy was seen as an influential women’s role model for her achievements in male dominated arenas as well as for her fashion choices, often sporting the latest designs from Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.

1933 saw the Mollisons set out to make a record east-west flight to the USA. Running out of fuel just short of their destination, they were feted by New York society. Amy and Jim received a tickertape parade down New York’s Wall Street, one of only 17 US ticker tape parades during the decade.

From 1935 to 1937 Amy was the President of the Women’s Engineering Society.

Amy Johnson’s father’s cinecamera, which was bought for him by Amy herself. Donated by Molly Jones.

Amy continued to make record-breaking flights through the 1930’s but her marriage to Jim Mollison didn’t last. In 1938 they divorced and Amy reverted to her maiden name of Johnson.

With the outbreak of the Second World War and the formation in 1940 of the Air Transport Auxiliary, Amy joined up. Often referred to as “The Beauty Chorus” due to the large number of high-profile women pilots, the Air Transport Auxiliary was tasked with delivering aircraft to RAF airbases. Amy quickly rose to the rank of First Officer which was equivalent to the RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Amy Johnson died on 5th January 1941 when the twin-engined Airspeed Oxford aircraft she was delivering mysteriously crashed into the Thames Estuary. The aircraft was many miles off track and flying in adverse weather conditions. No explanation was established as to the cause of the crash and Amy’s body was never recovered.

Amy Johnson’s flying bag at the time of her crash, which was recovered from the Estuary. Donated by Molly Jones.

Amy Johnson achieved much and made a big impact on the world. Achieving success in academic, professional and celebrity spheres Amy became one of the great female role models of the early 20th Century. With the rise of the narrated newsreel in the 1930’s Amy became one of the highest profile celebrities on the planet with as much attention paid to her personal life as her public achievements.

“I am an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. The first to qualify as a ground engineer. The first to fly to Australia single-handed. A million people lined the streets of London when I came home. I waved to them from an open-topped car like the queen, the queen of the air.”
Amy Johnson, Queen of the Air