This edited article about Amy Johnson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 700 published on 14 June 1975.
Shortly before breakfast on the morning of 5th May, 1930, a small green-and-silver Gypsy Moth biplane took off from Croydon Aerodrome. There were no big crowds to watch the event. The pilot, a young Yorkshire typist named Amy Johnson, was unknown to the public, and only her father and a few members of the London Aeroplane Club were there to wish her well on a daring trans-world flight.
As the heavily-laden little plane roared into the air at its second attempt, the men on the ground gave a ragged cheer.
Amy was hoping to fly her plane, Jason, across the globe to Australia and so become the first woman in the world to achieve such a feat. This was at a time when aviation was just struggling out of its infancy.
Since she had been a young girl, Amy had been keen on flying. She paid for lessons out of her small wage as a solicitor’s typist. After 16 hours flying, she qualified as an amateur pilot with an ‘A’ certificate. She then trained for and gained a ‘B’ certificate which entitled her to carry passengers. And she became the first woman to sit for and gain a certificate as a ground engineer.
Somehow, she managed to scrape together £600 to buy Jason, and her big adventure began.
On the morning that she left Croydon, the plane’s cockpit was crammed with everything she might need on a flight which could easily end up with a crash into the desert, swamp, jungle, mountain top or even the shark-infested Timor Sea.
As she flew across Europe and on to Baghdad and Karachi, her attempt suddenly became world news. From the obscure office worker of a few days before, she leapt into front page headlines from London to Sydney.
Telephones rang from country to country as her progress was followed hour by hour, and reception committees hurriedly assembled in towns at which she had yet to touch down.
Amy’s exploits did not disappoint the newspaper readers. They had all the thrills and excitement of a popular adventure novel.
She crash-landed at Jahnsi, a station on the Indian plains, with her plane out of petrol.
A wing was badly damaged and the fabric needed stitching. The repairs were performed by the village carpenter and the village tailor, whose nimble fingers worked with rare speed. No job, they told her proudly, was beyond their joint skills.
After taking off again, Jason flew into a blinding monsoon over the Burmese coast. In her exposed cockpit, Amy was battered and drenched to the skin. Still, she battled on, and landed on a sports field near Rangoon. Again, the plane’s wings were damaged, and this time they were mended by students from an engineering institute, who knew little about aircraft but were eager to learn.
Finally, nineteen-and-a-half days after leaving England, Amy arrived at Port Darwin in Northern Australia. It was 24th May, Empire Day, and the whole world rejoiced at her triumph.
During the banquets, balls, receptions and tours that followed, Amy won every heart with her modesty.
“Just call me Johnnie,” she would say. “That’s what my English friends call me.”
But Amy’s story did not end in Australia. In 1931 she flew to Tokyo, across Siberia and back to Britain.
The following year, she beat by 10 and a half hours the record set up by Jim Mollison, another British pilot, in flying to the Cape. She celebrated this success by marrying Mollison that same year and together the Flying Mollisons made a successful crossing of the Atlantic and became part of the legend of British aviation.
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