The ATA was started by the director of British Airways. He could see that when the second war started there wouldn't be enough trained pilots to protect Britain if they were used to ferry new aircraft from the factories and take back damaged ones for repair. Also there would be a suspension of civil aviation which meant these pilots would have no work.
The RAF had strict entry requirements and many of these civilian and commercial pilots would be considered unsuitable for operational service.
Initially just over a hundred men were recruited from all walks of life. It soon became apparent that these gallant few would not be enough to move trainers, fighters and bombers from storage units to RAF squadrons stop the RAF had thought they could use their own pilots for this but it became glaringly obvious after Dunkirk they would need every able-bodied RAF pilot in active service.
Most of these ATA pilots were limited to flying single engined training aircraft so they were given conversion courses so they could fly Hurricanes and Spitfires and multi-engine types.
|ATA girls in uniform.|
Many foreign pilots also found employment in the ATA. They were known as " The Flying Legion of the Air," as there were men and women from thirty other countries in the organisation.
In 1943 female pilots who had previously earned 20% less than male pilots were at last given equal pay. By now they were flying all class of aircraft, with the exception of class VI flying boats. They flew using only a compass and gyro and could only take off and land when the weather was clear.
By the end of the war ATA pilots had delivered over 300 000 aircraft of 51 different types. The ATAs total complement consisted of 1152 men and 166 women. There were also aircrew, radio officers, ground engineers and ATC cadets. 129 men and 20 women were killed in service, including Amy Johnson.
Fenella J Miller