Amy Johnson

(1932-8: Amy Mollison)
Aeronautical Engineer & Pilot

A black and white image of Amy Johnson in the cockpit of her aircraft, wearing pilot uniform and goggles and looking determined

Johnson in her Black Hawk Moth leaving Australia for Newcastle, 14 June 1930 (Image from The Age newspaper on Wikimedia Commons)

  • BORN 1st July 1903, Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
  • DIED 5th January 1941, Thames Estuary, near Herne Bay
  • WORKED Initially in London as a solicitor’s secretary; based in England but flew all over the world
  • HONOURS CBE; many aviation medals
  • MINERVA SCIENTIFICA PROJECT Echoes from Northamptonshire

Entry by Dr Patricia Fara, Emeritus Fellow of Clare College Cambridge and member of the British Society for the History of Science.

Amy Johnson visits Victoria (Image by Public Record Office Victoria on Flickr)

Artistic Connections

In 2016, the 75th anniversary of the death of Amy Johnson was celebrated by an ambitious two month Festival of the Arts & Engineering. The Amy Johnson Arts Trust has now been set up as a charity which continues to champion Amy and ensure that future generations of young people know about her remarkable story. Amy herself has no recorded connection with the arts.

Music

Title: Bats Moths and Biplanes
Composer:  FRANCES M LYNCH
Words by: Frances M Lynch and DORIS MACKINNON
Written: 12th – 14th May 2020
For: Solo Singer with recorded manipulated voices, Bat clicks, Bi-plane engines and natural sounds.
Performed by: electric voice theatre singers – Frances M Lynch, Jenny Miller, Margaret Cameron, David Sheppard, Julian Stocker and Gwion Thomas

First Performed: Online during the Covid-19 Outbreak for the “Echoes from Northamptonshire” programme at  Brixworth Music Festival on 15th May 2020

This music was inspired by the Sywell Aerodrome Women’s Meeting of 1931 which you can see on a British Pathé News video from the day itself Queens of the Air and by the wildlife close by at Pitsford Water Nature Reserve and Brixworth Country Park.

The solo singer describes the race and some of the women pilots who took part that day, including aircraft engineer DOROTHY SPICER and Ornithologist & Radiographer MARY RUSSELL, DUCHESS OF BEDFORD. The text describing the bats is mainly from zoologist DORIS MACKINNON’s book, The animal’s world which was based on talks she gave on the radio throughout the 1930s, interspersed with information gleaned from discussions with Wildlife Conservationist DEBBIE SAMWELL and Ecologist Mischa Cross.

Johnson was Britain’s prime pioneering pilot because she demonstrated that women can fly just as well as men. In her appearances at Sywell Pageants, she performed stunning aerobatic feats and took local children for a spin.

It was created at Birnam Studios, London as part of electric voice theatre‘s Minerva Scientifica – Connections 2020 project, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Frances M Lynch is supported by PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Music Creators.

Education

School in Hull; a BA in Economics at Sheffield University

Occupations

Secretary
After graduating, she earned money as a solicitor’s secretary

Air pilot
Her major career was in aviation; she gained a world-wide reputation for her daring, record-breaking flights

Fashion
For a few years before the War, she modelled and designed clothes

Volunteer
She joined the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War

Scientific Achievement

She became world famous in 1930 for being the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. Subsequently, she broke several other aviation records. She is still celebrated as a great female pioneer in aviation.

She was the youngest President of the Women’s Engineering Society.

Did You Know?

Image from the Science Museum

She mysteriously drowned after parachuting down into the icy-cold Thames when her plane crashed. Although she may have run out of fuel or navigated badly, a British soldier has claimed that he shot her down thinking it was an enemy aircraft after she twice signalled the wrong code word.

When she set off for Australia, the Daily Mail reported she had ‘a cupboard full of frocks’.

After running low on fuel, she and her husband deliberately crash-landed their plane in Connecticut, but were given a ticker tape parade through New York.

An Inspiring Woman

She is still internationally renowned for her courage, initiative and determination in pursuing a new and dangerous career that was dominated by men. To satisfy her passion for flying, she was willing to study hard, take risks and ignore criticism.

Links