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Imperial Airways Empire Terminal

Imperial Airways Building SW1, originally uploaded by Jamie Barras.

Designed in 1938 by architect Albert Lakeman, the Empire Terminal is a rather striking Art Moderne structure built to facilitate intermodal passenger and freight transport for Imperial’s C-Class flying boat services around the globe.  The main entrance features the statue Speed Wings Over The World, by Eric R. Broadbent, as well as the winged insignia of Imperial Airways in bas-relief.

The terminal is a lengthy facility stretching from 157-197 Buckingham Palace Road (Westminster SW1), and was completed in 1939.  It is strategically located adjacent to major road and rail connections, lying across the street from Victoria Coach Station and backing onto the railheads leading into London Victoria train station.  This ideal situation allowed mail, freight and passengers to congregate at the Empire Terminal, then be shipped to Southampton via rail, where they would be loaded into the flying boats and dispatched to the far corners of the earth.

Despite the general decline of flying boats in the postwar era, Imperial’s successor companies—BOAC and British Airways—continued to operate the terminal into the late 20th century.  In this 1978 image, the British Airways tail flash is visible atop the terminal’s central clock tower. At some point, BA management sold off the terminal and consolidated its offices elsewhere.  I am a little hard-pressed to comprehend how BA could easily surrender such priceless architectural and corporate heritage—with its predecessor’s logo painstakingly wrought from the very stone above the entrance—to any other body, regardless of how worthy.  Although given the state of Ford’s original Model T plant in Highland Park, Detroit, I suppose I should not be surprised by a company’s tone-deafness to their own rich history.

Today, the Empire Terminal is home to the UK’s National Audit Office, an independent parliamentary body that reports to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Famous Aviators You’ve Never Heard Of: Wiley Post

Wiley Post and Lockheed Vega 5C "Winnie Mae", before embarking on the record-breaking solo circumnavigation, July 15th, 1933.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Wiley Post and Lockheed Vega 5B "Winnie Mae of Oklahoma", before embarking on his record-breaking solo circumnavigation, July 15th, 1933. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Wiley Hardeman Post saw his first airplane at the age of fifteen, at the 1913 Lawton County Fair.  From that day on his interest in aeronautics never flagged, although he could not pursue it immediately.  Although Post had quit school at the tender age of 11, he had a great deal of mechanical aptitude and became a first-class mechanic.  During the Great War he joined the US Army hoping to become a pilot, but ended up as a radio operator; the war ended while he was still in training.  In 1919 Post, a Texan, was working as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil fields; in the same year he also got his first ride in an airplane.  Some time after he had a serious run-in with the law:  after stealing a car, Wiley was caught, convicted and sentenced to 10 years in the Granite Reformatory.  He got parole after only 13 months.

In 1924, fate provided Wiley Post with what is surely aviation history’s most hazardous entry-level job.  A barnstorming troupe—Burrell Tibbs and His Texas Topnotch Fliers—had arrived in Oklahoma, but their parachutist was injured.  Against all logic, Wiley persuaded owner Charles Burrell Tibbs to let him fill in; and despite a total lack of skydiving experience, Post did not kill himself in the attempt.  Wiley made a total of 99 jumps, earning $100-200 for each—good money for the time.  The show’s pilots (including Tibbs) gave him flying lessons.

In order to earn enough money to buy his own aircraft, Post returned to the oil fields in 1926 but was injured on his first day; a stray chip hit him in the left eye, and a massive infection threatened sight in both.  In order to save his sight, doctors removed his left eye.  Depth perception was a problem with only one eye, so Post taught himself to gauge distances; he used telephone poles and two-storey buildings to help judge altitudes and distances when landing.

Mae Post in Alaska

Mae Laine Post in Alaska

For his injury Wiley Post was awarded $1,800 by the Oklahoma Industrial Court, and with it he bought his first plane, a Curtis Canuck (the Canadian version of the Curtis JN-4 “Jenny”).  The Canuck cost him the grand sum of $240, and with it he began a career as a barnstormer, travelling throughout Oklahoma and northern Texas.  In Sweetwater, Texas, 28-year-old Post met and fell in love with pretty 17-year-old Mae Laine.  The two eloped and were later married in Oklahoma, on June 27th, 1927; over the year, the happy couple barnstormed across Oklahoma and Texas.  Post also took the time to get an official pilot’s license, with a waiver for his blind eye.

The ever-practical Post realised that barnstorming was not steady income, though, and sought to provide more stability for his wife.  In 1928 he heard from a friend in Oklahoma City that an oilman there, F.C. Hall, was looking for a personal pilot.  Post applied and got the job.

Hall’s aircraft was an open-cockpit biplane (Travelair 3000), and the oilman inevitably tired of the wind-in-your-face bug-smashing.  With Post’s advice, he picked out the fastest enclosed-cabin aircraft available, a Lockheed Vega (registry NC 7954) which Hall christened Winnie Mae after his daughter.  Wiley Post flew for Hall until the Great Depression forced Hall to sell the aircraft back to Lockheed, and in characteristic fashion he found an opportunity in this, too.  When Post returned the aircraft to Lockheed, the aircraft manufacturer hired him on as test pilot.

CIRCUMNAVIGATION AND RISE TO FAME

In 1930, F.C. Hall’s fortunes were once again on the rise, and he bought a later-model Lockheed Vega 5B (named Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, registry NC/NR 105W), with seating for seven passengers and 420hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine.  With Hall’s permission, Post entered the 1930 National Air Race Derby, a race from Los Angeles to Chicago.  On August 27th, 1930, Post and Winnie Mae won the $7,500 prize with a time of 9 hours, 8 minutes and 2 seconds. He beat second-place finisher Art Goebel (9 hrs, 9 min and 4 sec), who was flying NC 7954—the first Winnie Mae.  F.C. Hall had “Los Angeles to Chicago 9 hrs. 8 min. 2 sec. August 27, 1930.” inscribed on the airplane’s fuselage, and encouraged Post to enter himself and Winnie Mae into further aviation competitions.

post-gatty

Wiley Post (left) and Harold Gatty (right)

What Wiley Post really wanted was to fly around the world; to reclaim for fixed-wing aircraft a record that was at the time held by the Graf Zeppelin, having circumnavigated the globe in 1929 with a time of 21 days.  Post became acquainted with Australian Harold Gatty, an extremely skilled navigator who pioneered the use of many new instruments and techniques.  On June 23, 1931, Post and Gatty left Roosevelt Field in Winnie Mae, following a 15,000 mile itinerary that would take them through Harbor Grace, Newfoundland; then Chester, England; Hanover and Berlin, Germany; Moscow, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Blagoveshchensk and Khabarovsk, all in Russia; Nome, Alaska; Edmonton, Canada; Cleveland and then New York again.  The duo landed on July 1st, 1931, having set a world record for traversing 15,474 miles in only 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes.  Post and Gatty were fêted in style upon their return; they lunched at the White House on July 6th, rode in a New York City ticker-tape parade the next day, and were guests of honour at a banquet in the Hotel Astor.  F.C. Hall later sold the record-setting Winnie Mae to its now-famous pilot.  At an appearance in Claremore, Oklahoma, Post first met fellow Oklahoman and famed Vaudeville humourist Will Rogers; their mutual interest in aviation would make them friends for life.  Gatty and Post also wrote a book, Around the World in Eight Days: The Flight of the Winnie Mae; Will Rogers contributed the foreword. A year after their record-setting flight, the US Congress passed a law allowing civilians to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross; Post and Gatty had their medals pinned on by President Herbert Hoover.

Some pundits and potential financiers soured on Wiley because of his rural roots and lack of formal education, and this torpedoed his plans to open an aeronautical school.  The true genius must be Harold Gatty, the skeptics reasoned, even though both men readily acknowledged it had been a team effort.  No doubt these criticisms stung, and Wiley soon made plans for a solo circumnavigation.  He spent a year preparing Winnie Mae, upgrading its avionics with a brand new autopilot and radio direction finder being jointly developed by the Sperry Gyroscope Company and the US Army Air Corps.  (Those of you with some aviation knowledge will ask how Post tuned his ADF to non-directional beacons [NDBs] before such ground-based navaids were widely adopted for use.  The answer is that the ADFs of yesterday and today can also tune/receive signals from ordinary AM radio stations.)  Post also trained his body to endure the rigours of his ambitious flight; he practiced taking short naps instead of sleeping through the night.  In 1933, he repeated his circumnavigation—alone this time—and beat his old record, arriving in 7 days and 19 hours.  Being the first person to fly around the world solo earned Wiley Post his second ticker-tape parade in New York City.

HIGH ALTITUDE PIONEER

By 1934 Wiley had his eye on another goal, the £10,000 Robertson Prize to be awarded to the winner of an air race from England to Australia.  Post was eager to compete, but realised that recent advancements in engine and airframe technology would relegate Winnie Mae to also-ran status.  Post knew that fast-moving streams of air (what we would now call jet streams) were supposed to exist in the higher altitudes—between 30,000 and 50,000 feet—but he also knew that the human body could not long survive up there without adequate oxygen.  Since Winnie Mae’s plywood shell could not be safely pressurised, he decided to try and build a wearable pressure suit instead.  With that he hoped to utilise the thin air and fast winds of the stratosphere to beat the other Robertson competitors to Australia.

Post wanted to keep the true purpose of his plan under wraps, but he did mention the pressure suit idea to friend Jimmy Doolittle, who referred him to the B.F. Goodrich Company.  Wiley requested a rubber suit that would maintain 5,500 feet pressure equivalent up to altitudes of 27,000 feet; air pressure would be provided by a new engine supercharger he planned to install in Winnie Mae.  The U.S. Army Air Service graciously let Post use its low-pressure chamber at Wright Field, Ohio (now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), and he also received technical assistance from the base’s medical and engineering staffs.  Wiley Post and B.F. Goodrich would end up manufacturing three suits of rubberised parachute fabric, as various technical hurdles were encountered and overcome.  The first pressure suit was designed to fit a man standing up, and when pressurised, the limbs became inflexible.  This same suit later failed a static pressure test at Wright Field, which ended its use.  The second suit had flexible ring joints at the knees and elbows, solving the flexibility issue.  Unfortunately Wiley gained a little weight during these months of testing and became stuck in the second suit; he had to be cut out, which ruined it.

Writing in the October 1934 edition of Popular Mechanics, Wiley offered this remarkable prophecy on the future of airline transport:

I believe that, in the future, all flying will be done at 50,000 feet or so when the distance is great enough to warrant climbing to that height.  Transcontinental and transoceanic hauling of passengers and freight can be done in one half the present normal time, simply by use of suitable supercharging of engine, pilot and passenger cabin.  No radical changes in plane or engine are necessary, but of course, further refinements of plane and engine design and improved methods of streamlining will reduce the time even further.

330726-F-2373H-001

Wiley Post's third pressure suit.

The third suit passed manned and unmanned tests, plus compatibility and fit checks within Winnie Mae.  Wiley flew several test flights up to 40,000 feet in the latter half of 1934; earning him yet another place in history—the first person to fly in a pressure suit.  On December 7, 1934, he flew up to 50,000 feet and actually rode the jet stream; but what should have been a world altitude record was foiled when one of two NACA barographs failed during the ascent, so his record remained unofficial.  Post actually made about eight flights up to or near 50,000 feet, but without dual barograph verification, no record could be verified by the government.  In preparation for future flights, Wiley successfully attained an instrument rating from the Department of Commerce in January of 1935.

As it turned out the third suit and modifications to Winnie Mae would not be made in time for the Robertson Prize race; Wiley was nonetheless still interested in high-altitude research and continued to work on it into 1935.  An attempt at a transcontinental speed record was foiled by when a jealous pilot sabotaged Winnie Mae‘s engine (Wiley was able to land unharmed).  A subsequent transcontinental flight was aborted when Post ran out of oxygen over the Midwest, but he did manage to fly from Burbank, California to Cleveland, Ohio in a record time of 7 hours and 19 minutes.  Winnie Mae’s average speed on that flight was 279 miles per hour (242 knots) or a full 100 mph faster than her normal maximum airspeed; her groundspeed peaked at 340 miles per hour.  Post and his eight-year-old, semi-obsolescent aircraft had undoubtedly ridden the jetstream, and it attracted national attention.

Winnie Mae‘s engine, however, was starting to show the strain and became increasingly breakdown-prone.  Will Rogers suggested to his friend (and the newspapers) that the valiant aircraft ought to be retired to the Smithsonian.  House Resolution 8622 did just that, authorising the Smithsonian to purchase Winnie Mae for not more than $25,000 (with a further $25,000 authorised to carry out the provisions of the resolution).

A PREMATURE END

With Winnie Mae‘s retirement provided for, Wiley Post sought to purchase another aircraft.  He couldn’t afford a brand-new high-performance machine, but instead he cobbled together the salvaged parts of two damaged airplanes.  This composite aircraft was comprised of the fuselage and engine from an ex-TWA Lockheed Orion, and the wing of a Lockheed Explorer.  Although the Lockheed Company did not sanction nor encourage this amalgamation of parts, it was rebuilt anyway and received registry number NC 12283 from the U.S. Bureau of Aeronautics.  Its official type classification was Orion 9E Special (although it has also been referred to as an Orion-Explorer).  Wiley’s original intentions for this aircraft are not fully known.  It was suggested that he, Mae Post and a friend would vacation for six weeks in Siberia, as a way of scouting out a new air mail route between Russia and Alaska that would bypass the dangerous transpacific route.

On August 1st, 1935, Wiley and his wife took off from San Francisco for Seattle; while there the Orion 9E would be fitted with pontoons as a seaplane.  There were several changes in plan, too.  Will Rogers wanted to go hunting and fishing in Alaska with Wiley, and felt camping in the bush might be too much to ask of Mae Post.  She flew home from Seattle.  Critically, the pontoons Wiley had arranged to borrow were not in Seattle; and since Rogers was both paying the bills and anxious to be on his way north, Wiley looked for another set.  He settled on a set of pontoons meant for a much larger and heavier aircraft, and had them installed.  They changed the Orion-Explorer’s centre of gravity to the point where power had to be carried to keep a nose-up attitude in landing.

After loading two cases of chili, Post and Rogers boarded NC 12283 and departed for Alaska at approximately 9:20am on August 6th, 1935.  They arrived at Juneau on the 7th, visisted with friends, and were forced to remain a few extra days due to inclement weather.  They then flew on to Dawson in the Yukon Territory, followed by Fairbanks, Alaska.  Rogers wanted to visit Point Barrow in order to secure an interview with an elderly whaler and trader for his newspaper column.  The pair refuelled their craft at Lake Harding, and then again at Walapka Lagoon, 16 miles from Barrow.  They chatted with Clair Okpeaha, proprietor of a hearby sealing camp, ate some food, and then climbed back into the aircraft.

NC_12283_crash

NC 12283 after the crash.

The aircraft had barely lifted off the water on her takeoff run when the engine quit.  Owing to its nose-heavy centre of gravity, NC 12283 dove into the shallow water, ruptured its fuselage and flipped over onto its back.  Okpeaha immediately took off at a run for Barrow; the 16 mile trip took him five hours.  A UPI correspondent in Barrow got a group of men together and they trekked out to the crash site.  The rescue party located the bodies, noting that Post’s watch had stopped at 8:18pm, August 15th.

Post’s body was transported back to Oklahoma, where it lay in state in the rotunda of the Capitol; some 15,000 visitors came to pay their respects.  His remains were interred into the Memorial Park Cemetery in Edmond, Oklahoma.

TODAY

Wiley Post and Will Rogers are both memorialised by aerodromes in Oklahoma City (Wiley Post Airport [KPWA] and Will Rogers World Airport [KOKC], respectively).  The airfield in Barrow, Alaska is also named for them—Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport (PABR).  Wiley Post was further immortalised in two US Postal Service stamps in 1979.

mae_post_memorial

Mae Laine Post beside her husband's memorial.

A concrete memorial was erected near the crash site, paid for by public subscription.

Wiley’s 26-year-old widow, Mae Laine Post, never remarried.  She is buried beside her husband in Memorial Park Cemetery.

The indomitable Winnie Mae of Oklahoma , now 79 years old, remains on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Airships.net

Graf Zeppelin being led from its hangar for its first flight on September 18, 1928. (Dan Grossman / Airships.net)

Graf Zeppelin being led from its hangar for its first flight on September 18, 1928. (Dan Grossman / Airships.net)

Teh intarwebs are a blessing for those of us who have an intense interest in obscure corners of history.   The time we would otherwise spend buried in a reference library, hunting down esoteric single-edition books can now be comfortably spent doing research from home.  Best of all, the net also provides a forum for us to share our knowledge and enthusiasm with others who share it—instead of merely boring our patient, understanding spouses.

It so happens that I have stumbled across something of a kindred spirit in Mr. Dan Grossman, an airship enthusiast who has amassed an outstanding collection of photographs and information about the lighter-than-air behemoths of the early 20th century.

Why my interest in airships?

As a technology and transportation nerd, I have long been fascinated by the history and technology of aircraft, ships, and trains.  And as a former pilot, obsessed by flight since I was a little kid, I naturally have a particular interest in the history of aviation.

In addition, as a technology enthusiast without formal training (my degree is in history, and not engineering), I am drawn to an era in which the most advanced technology of the day could be developed by untrained amateurs like Ferdinand von Zeppelin or Hugo Eckener.  The defining aviation technologies of the 1920’s and 1930’s — the improved internal combustion engine, the flying boat airliner, the passenger zeppelin — are remarkably simple devices, and there is not much about these machines that cannot be understood by a person with average intelligence and a touch of mechanical ability; there is something appealing for me about a time in which the height of technology was represented by machines which were, in essence, so very basic.

Whether or not one has a particular interest in airships, dirigibles and zeppelins, the information at Mr. Grossman’s site—Airships.net—is meticulously researched and gorgeously illustrated.  The sections on LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin, LZ-129 Hindenburg, and the US Navy rigid airships (Shenandoah, Macon, Akron and Los Angeles) are peerless.  Go have a look.

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Alfred G. Buckham’s aerial photography

Aerial photograph of London in the early 1920s, by Capt. Alfred G. Buckham, RNAS

Aerial photograph of London in the early 1920s, by Capt. Alfred G. Buckham, RNAS

Captain Alfred G. Buckham was a pilot in the photographic section of the Royal Naval Air Service, and an early pioneer of aerial photography in the inter-war years.  When one considers that he was working from open-cockpit aircraft, without gloves, and standing up, the imagery is all the more astonishing.  He also managed to survive no less than nine crashes.

The London Telegraph featured this online exhibition of his works last June.  The History Press in the UK has published a book of his life and works, which I think I will have to acquire.

Category: Aeronautics, Ars Gratia Artis  Tags: ,  Comments off

Famous Aviators You’ve Never Heard Of: Amy Johnson, CBE

Amy Johnson, 1930.

Amy Johnson, 1930.

Secretary to a London solicitor, Ms. Amy Johnson was introduced to flying as a hobbyist in the winter of 1928.  Despite being told that she would “never make a flier”, she persisted under the tutelage of the London Aeroplane Club’s Captain Valentine Baker.  Not long afterward she became certificated as a private pilot (“A” License) on July 6th, 1929—five days after her 26th birthday.  Within the same year she also became Britain’s first female qualified ground engineer, receiving her “C” license in December.  Unable to find work as a pilot, Ms. Johnson decided to undertake some kind of record-breaking flight, in order to demonstrate that women could handle the complexities and demands of aviation as well as men.  All she had wanted was a “proper flying job”, but few men in the industry took the idea of women pilots very seriously.

CLAIM TO FAME

The late 20s were also a time of aeronautical daring; in 1927 Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, and in 1928 Bert Hinkler flew solo from Britain to Australia in what was then an astounding 15 ½ days.  Ms. Johnson decided she would try to beat Hinkler’s time, in spite of the fact that her longest trip to date had been a mere two hours, between London and Hull.  She canvassed various public figures for support, but her most generous backers were her own father and Lord Wakefield of Hythe, founder of the Castrol oil company.  Wakefield offered to fund half the cost of an aeroplane and pre-position fuel supplies along the route.  Funds in hand, Amy purchased a second-hand, two-year-old Gipsy Moth (registry G-AAAH)—an open-cockpit biplane whose top speed was 78 knots (or 90 miles per hour).  Johnson christened the plane Jason, after her father’s company trademark.

aj-australiaAmy departed London’s Croydon Aerodrome on May 5th, 1930, attended by very little publicity; it seemed that the media didn’t take her all that seriously, either.  She made good progress though, and managed to fly the 4,000 miles to Karachi in only six days—improving on Hinkler’s time by two.  The media and public started to pay attention in earnest as her time kept improving, but then disaster struck.  Approaching Rangoon on the ninth day, she mistook a football (soccer) pitch for the landing area and crashed, damaging the Gipsy Moth.  It would require three days to repair, putting Hinkler’s record out of reach.  She pushed on anyway, arriving in Darwin, Australia on May 24th.  The field was blanketed with people, and Amy thought she had inadvertently arrived during an air show.

As it turned out, they were all there to see her, despite the failure to break the record.  Somewhat mystified by the crowd’s enthusiasm, she is reported to have said “I’m afraid I didn’t break the record, but you don’t seem to mind that – it’s jolly sporting of you.”  Her story was snapped up by the Daily Mail for £10,000, and Ms. Johnson received the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE.  She was also awarded the No. 1 civil pilot’s licence under Australia’s 1921 Air Navigation Regulations (although the first Australian recipient, Sir Norman Brearley, had been flying with License No. 2 since 1921).

Jim Mollison & Amy Johnson

Jim Mollison & Amy Johnson

The fame and celebrity enabled her to meet other famous pilots; one of whom was Jim Mollison, who in 1931 beat both Johnson and Hinkler by flying from Britain to Australia in 9 days.  Mollison and Johnson would end up marrying in 1932.  The two aviators, jointly and separately, would go on to establish, break or regain several aviation records throughout the early 1930s.  In 1931, Johnson and Jack Humphreys became the first pilots to fly from London to Moscow in one day (21hrs).  They then flew on through Siberia to Japan, establishing a time record from Britain to Japan.  In 1932 Mollison established a time record from Britain to South Africa in 113 hours, which Johnson proceeded to break shortly thereafter.  She lost it in later years, and regained it with a much faster 78 hour flight in 1936.  She and Mollison attempted a joint nonstop flight from Wales to New York in 1933, but ran out of fuel and crash-landed in Connecticut, injuring both.

A PROPER FLYING JOB

Paradoxically all of the attention was detrimental to her hopes of landing an ordinary flying job.  Employers either tried to exploit her fame, or dismissed her as a mere glory-hound.  Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 during her around-the-world attempt with Fred Noonan soured Amy on the idea of further record-breaking flights.  They were in any event losing their glamour as flying became more and more ordinary and accessible for the general public.  Jim Mollison’s infidelities brought additional turmoil and, eventually, a painful divorce in 1939.  It would take the outbreak of war in September to bring Amy regular, attention-free flying.

In 1938 the British government established the Air Transport Auxiliary, meant as a civilian service to ferry mail and medical supplies to military installations.  As continental tensions gave way to war, the mission was changed to ferrying aircraft (and occasionally personnel) between manufacturers, assembly points, depots and front-line units.  In late 1939 the ATA opened a women’s section, and would eventually grow to include 166 women (1/8th of the entire ATA force) from Britain, the Empire (Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), the Netherlands, Poland and Chile.  One of these unsung, anonymous pilots was Amy Johnson; by all accounts she handled herself with aplomb and was considered “just one of the girls”.  In an interesting footnote, in 1943 the Women’s ATA became the very first British government organisation to receive equal pay for equal work.  In contrast its American counterpart (WASP) was still paying its women pilots up to 35% less than their male colleagues.

At 10:45am on January 5th, 1941, Amy departed Blackpool in an Airspeed Oxford Mk II, bound for RAF Kidlington.  The weather was far from favourable and she indicated to onlookers that she would “go over the top” (fly above the cloud layers), something not recommended for ATA pilots as they flew without radios.  The low clouds made navigation difficult and Amy’s aircraft wandered far off course.   She was spotted on air defence radars and aircraft were dispatched to guide her home, but it is presumed that the Oxford (which carried 4.75 hours of fuel) had by that time experienced fuel exhaustion, and Amy had to bail out some time between 1500 and 1537 GMT.

Her parachute and aircraft were spotted over the Thames estuary by lookouts on cross-Channel steamer HMS Haslemere, and air trapped in the parachute is reported to have kept her afloat for ten minutes.  Haslemere‘s captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher, dived into the freezing river with a rope tied around his waist, in a bid to try and save the then-unknown pilot.  She was last seen disappearing under the Haslemere‘s stern and was presumed dead by drowning; her body was never recovered.   The gallant Lieutenant Commander Fletcher later died from immersion hypothermia in hospital at Sheerness.

TODAY

The name Amy Johnson is still relatively well-known in Britain and Australia, but otherwise forgotten (especially in North America, where Amelia Earhart tends to take pride of place, and where the name Amy Johnson conjures up the Pink Power Ranger).  Castrol oil survives as a brand of British Petroleum, of course, and Amy’s father’s company, Andrew Johnson Knudtzon, originally fish merchants, are now a cold storage company still headquartered in the family’s old hometown of Hull.

Gipsy Moth Jason G-AAAH, now 81 years old, remains on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London.

READ MORE: A fuller account of her life and times, including a reasonable reconstruction of the circumstances of her last flight, at the RAF’s History Section.