Dorothy Norman Spicer (married name Pearse)

Aircraft engineer

A black and white profile photograph of a woman with aviator goggles on her head

Image from the National Portrait Gallery

  • BORN 31st  July 1908, Hadley Wood, Middlesex
  • DIED 23rd December 1946, Crash of a scheduled air flight: 10 miles from Rio de Janeiro airport
    • With her friend Pauline Gower, in 1931 Spicer set up a company piloting airplanes and performing in pageants, such as the All Women Meeting at Sywell; later they settled in Hunstanton, Norfolk, offering joy rides to tourists. After gaining engineering qualifications, they ran an aeroplane repair garage on Hayling Island.
    • In 1933, she participated in 200 air displays to raise money for British hospitals.
    • She then became involved in high-level administration work in London, but continued flying and research into aircraft design, focusing on different types of steel.
  • HONOURS She was still in her 30s when she died, so although she was a very eminent female pioneer in the aviation world, she had not yet received any formal honours.
  • 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.

Artistic Connections

Not known


Title: Bats Moths and Biplanes
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 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.

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.

Image from wikimedia commons


Godolphin School, Brussels

University College, London

Learnt to fly at the London Aeroplane Club, Stag Lane


Aircraft engineer
Spicer was the first woman to reach the top in this demanding technical career. She was well-known as an excellent pilot, a skilled mechanic and an original scientific researcher.

Scientific Achievement

She carried out research into using steels for aeroplanes, but her main achievement was to become a technical aviation expert at a time when such careers were still closed to women.

Did You Know?

She joined the Crimson Fleet Air Circus to raise money for hospitals.

After successfully completing so many flights, she died in a commercial plane that flew into the side of a mountain near Rio de Janeiro in thick fog.

With Pauline Gower, she wrote the book Women with wings (1938).

Pauline Gower (left) and Dorothy Spicer admiring the plane of another pioneer of the air, JASON III, the plane in which miss Amy Johnson attempted to fly across Siberia, photographed at Stag Lane Aerodrome. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

An Inspiring Woman

Spicer was an exceptionally determined and clever woman who broke through several barriers in female education. In 1935, she became the first woman to gain the top D license in aircraft engineering. She had to obtain special permission to study at such a high level, but it qualified her to build, inspect and repair engines and airframes. When she later joined London’s Air Registration Board, she became the only woman in the whole of the British Empire to hold a technical post in civil aviation.

Pauline Gower (left) and Dorothy Spicer next to Simmonds Spartan G-ABKK ‘Helen of Troy’ (image from