She’s one of the most inspirational figureheads of the 20th century.
She was a ground-breaking pilot—the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, and a record breaker for her flight time from England to India.
Her death in 1941 was—and still is—one of the biggest mysteries in history.
If you don’t know we’re talking about Amy Johnson, you’re missing out. Here are 10 facts about the record-shattering pilot that everyone should know.
Amy Johnson: 10 facts you need to know.
1. Her great-grandfather was mayor of Hull.
Amy Johnson was born in July 1903 in Kingston upon Hull in the U.K. Her parents were John William Johnson, of the fish merchants Andrew Johnson, Knudtzon and Co., and Amy Hodge. Amy was the granddaughter of William Hodge, who was the mayor of Hull in the late 1800s.
As the eldest of four daughters, she did her schooling at Boulevard Municipal Secondary School. She graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics.
2. She broke her first record long before she flew to Australia.
Johnson moved to London to work as a secretary after graduation. While in London she discovered flying as a hobby, and pursued an aviator’s certificate. She gained her pilot’s license in 1929 under Captain Valentine Baker at the London Aeroplane Club.
Later that year, she became the first British female to gain a ground engineer’s C license, an interesting fact about Amy Johnson.
3. Her father gave her the money to buy her first plane.
Her father was one of her most vocal supporters in life, and he gave her the money to buy a second hand plane. She named the Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth ‘Jason’, in honor of her father’s business trade mark. The plane is now displayed at the Science Museum in London.
4. She made a new record only a year after learning to fly.
After developing her new passion for only a year, Johnson proved to the world that a woman could dominate the aviation field. On May 5th 1930, she flew from Croydon with the goal of reaching Australia.
Flying her second-hand plane, Jason, she flew 11,000 miles and landed in Darwin, Australia on May 24th—damaging her plane in the process.
5. She received a CBE.
In recognition of her massive achievement, she was awarded a CBE in King George V’s Birthday Honours. She also received a Harmon Trophy, and the number 1 civil pilot’s licence under the Australian 1921 Air Navigation Regulation.
6. She broke another record the following year.
In 1931, Johnson bought herself a new plane—the de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth—and named it Jason II. In July of that year, she and Jack Humphreys flew from London to Moscow, Russia, in under 24 hours. The flight covered 1,760 miles and gave the pair their record for quickest flight from London to Moscow, an interesting Amy Johnson fact. Not content to stop there, the pair carried on across Siberia and landed in Tokyo—setting a record flight time from Britain to Japan.
7. A pilot proposed to her eight hours after they met.
Jim Mollison, a Scottish pilot, proposed to Johnson in 1932. She accepted his proposal and they married in July 1932. To celebrate, she set a solo record for flying from London to Cape Town, South Africa. She broke her husband’s record.
After that, she and her new husband flew as a duo. In 1933 they flew a de Havilland Dragon I from South Wales to Brooklyn, New York. Their plane ran out of fuel and they crash-landed at an airport in Stratford, Connecticut. They were both injured, and recovered in the U.S.
8. The couple were married less than 6 years.
In 1934, the pair broke a record between Britain and India as part of the MacRobertson Air Race. Unfortunately, they were forced to exit the race at Allahabad due to engine trouble.
The couple were often in competition for the same aviation records, and some reports say that Mollison was a heavy drinker. In 1938, Johnson flipped her glider during an aeronautical display at Walsall Aerodrome. She wasn’t seriously hurt. Later that year, she divorced Mollison and reverted to her maiden name.
9. She was a First Officer during the Second World War.
In 1940, Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) to transport RAF aircraft around the country. She rose to First Officer.
10. The circumstances around her death are still a mystery.
On January 5th 1941, Johnson was flying an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA. She went off course in poor weather conditions, and evacuated her aircraft as it crashed into the Thames Estuary.
A convoy of ships in the estuary spotted her parachute and saw her calling for help. Weather conditions were bad—there was a strong tide, it was extremely cold, and it was snowing.
HMS Haslemere, captained by Lt. Cmdr. Walter Fletcher, attempted a rescue. The crew threw ropes to Johnson but she was unable to reach them and was drawn under the ship. Spotting something in the water that he believed to be Amy Johnson, Lt. Cmdr. Fletcher jumped into the water. He swam to the object, realized it wasn’t Johnson, and eventually lost consciousness. He was rescued by a lifeboat but died in hospital a few days later.
Johnson’s body has never been recovered, a sad fact about Amy Johnson. One historian claimed that Johnson died because she was caught in the ship’s propellers as she was drawn underneath the ship. Others believe that her aircraft was shot down by friendly fire, after the pilot failed to give correct ID codes to the command tower. Having realized their error, the officers involved were dispatched to cover up the mistake.
Amy Johnson shattered aviation records throughout her life. As the first woman to fly from England to Australia, and the fastest to fly to India, Moscow, Cape Town, and Japan, Johnson achieved an astounding amount in her 37 years.
Although it was cut short in tragic and mysterious circumstances, there is so much we have to learn about her life.
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