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Amy Johnson planned to undertake a long distance flight and chose Australia. A wave of publicity accompanied her efforts to obtain support for the venture. She wrote innumerable letters to public figures, appealing for help. Eventually, her family offered to buy an aeroplane, and Sir Sefton Brancker, Director of Civil Aviation at the Air Ministry, gave her an interview in March 1930. He then wrote to Lord Wakefield, head of the Wakefield-Castrol oil company, to bring Johnson’s ambitions to his notice. On meeting Amy Johnson in April 1930, the oil magnate agreed to share the cost of an aeroplane, £600, with Amy Johnson's father. He also offered to arrange fuel supplies along the route to Australia. Preparations for the flight now began, less than a year after her first solo flight.
Amy Johnson's flight route, May 1930.
On 5th May 1930, with only the experience of flying from London to Hull, Amy Johnson began her long journey to Australia. She was attempting to break the light aeroplane record for a solo flight to Australia. Johnson’s route covered some 10,000 miles of unfamiliar territory and took 20 days.
Johnson took off from Croydon Airport without much publicity or public interest. Among the few people to see her off were her father and James Martin, the inventor of the ejector seat. However, once she had reached her first stop press coverage was world-wide and her extraordinary feat had captured the public’s imagination.
Johnson’s first stop was in Karachi, India. It took six days to reach, arriving on 10th May and broke the record for that distance. She had improved on the previous one, held by the flyer Bert Hinkler, by two days.
On her next stage, between Karachi and Calcutta, the aeroplane suffered some damage during a landing at Jhansi on 11th May. Repairs were quickly done but a more serious delay resulted from a crash landing at Insein, just north of Rangoon, on 13th May. In torrential rain, fading light and low on petrol, Amy Johnson landed on a playing field and ended up in a ditch. After hard work and improvisation by Johnson and willing helpers, Jason was made airworthy and the flight was resumed.
Due to more bad weather, Amy Johnson soon realised that the delays would prevent her from breaking the England to Australia record, also held by Bert Hinkler. The final lap of the journey to Darwin was completed in the afternoon of Saturday, 24th May. She did not break the record, but she gained the distinction of being the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia.
The flight generated much media coverage and Amy Johnson became an overnight celebrity. She flew on to Brisbane, but unfortunately overshot the aerodrome, crashing the aeroplane. This meant that her aeroplane took no further part in the tour, but Johnson spent 6 further weeks in Australia, attending receptions, dinners, presentations and galas. Wherever she went, she received press and public attention.
Amy Johnson received telegrams of congratulations from many dignitaries including King George V and Queen Mary, Ramsay MacDonald, the prime minister, the King and Queen of Belgium, the Lindberghs, Louis Blériot and Francis Chichester. She also attended many parties and received much publicity. However, the excitement and pace led to exhaustion, which precluded her from flying herself back to England.
Johnson started her return journey by sea to England first stopping at Port Said in Egypt. From there she was flown to Croydon by Imperial Airways, where a huge crowd gathered to welcome her. Her aeroplane, Jason, was also there, having been repaired and brought back from Australia.
She was met by the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, and an estimated million people lined the route from the aerodrome as Amy Johnson was driven into London’s West End. She was awarded the C.B.E. and the Daily Mail made her a gift of £10,000 for her services in Australia.
At a rally for young people in Hull City Hall she proposed that a special trophy be awarded to recognise any act of outstanding bravery by a Hull child. The children of Sydney had raised a sum of money with which Johnson bought a gold cup. This award is still offered annually at Hull.
Johnson continued to receive awards and gifts of all kinds, including two aircraft. One was given by De Havilland, makers of her Gipsy Moth, and the other provided by public subscriptions to newspapers.
Many honours were bestowed upon Amy Johnson to acknowledge her remarkable career. In addition to those already mentioned, she received the Egyptian gold medal for valour (1930), the women’s trophy of the International League of Aviators (1930), the President’s gold medal of the Society of Engineers (1931), the Segrave trophy (1933), the gold medal of honour of the League of Youth (1933), and the gold medal of the Royal Aero Club (1936).
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