Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War a BOAC director, Gerald d’Erlanger was asked to start an organisation with civilian pilots to ferry passengers and aircraft around the country. Thus began the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), an organisation that would eventually move 309,000 aircraft of 140 different types. One important role the ATA undertook was to fly new aircraft from the factories to the operational stations.
By the end of the war the ATA employed over 150 women pilots, and about 600 men, many of whom were not British. Eventually pilots from thirty different countries joined the ATA ranks.
Initially, only eight women pilots were accepted to fly light single engined aircraft. However, during the spring of 1941, the demand for aircraft ferry flights increased dramatically and it became necessary for women to deliver more advanced aircraft. Four of the original eight were converted on to the more powerful aircraft such as the Spitfire, Hurricane and Beaufighter.
Later in the war twelve women were trained to fly the large four engined bomber aircraft such as the Lancaster, Stirling and American B-17 Flying Fortress.
There were two ranks within the ATA structure; Second Officer for those who were qualified to fly only single engined aircraft and First Officer, for those with over 500 hours flying experience and qualified to fly twin or multi-engined aircraft.
The ATA pilots always carried around with them a small book, known as the ‘Ferry Pilot’s Notes’. This book contained the technical data, such as stalling speed for each type of aircraft. It was not unusual to observe an ATA pilot spending some time checking his/her notes prior to take off. These notes must have been invaluable, even for the most experienced pilots. For example, Lettice Curtis (the first women to fly a four engined bomber aircraft) was required to fly in one day two light single engined aircraft, a Spitfire, two medium bombers and a Stirling heavy bomber.
TWO EXAMPLES OF ATA FERRY PILOT’S NOTES ARE DISPLAYED IN THE ATA EXHIBITION IN THE MUSEUM’S TANGMERE HALL