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Amy Johnson – the girl from Hull who flew from Croydon to Australia

Posted in Adventure, Australia, Aviation, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Travel on Friday, 3 January 2014

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This edited article about aviation first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 502 published on 28 August 1971.

Amy Johnson, picture, image, illustration

Amy Johnson

When Amy Johnson decided she wanted to become the first woman to fly solo to Australia and break the record for the flight she had only clocked 93 hours flying time.

And the longest flight she had ever made until that May day in 1930 when she took off from Croydon airport was the 147 miles from London to her home in Hull.

She was twenty-six years old and had just lost her job as a typist. She was bored, and flying, she decided, was the only way to excitement.

Amy told her father about her plans and he agreed to give her a cheque for £600 if she could not find another backer.

Needless to say there were no other backers, and with her father’s £600 Amy bought a Gipsy Moth which she called Jason.

There were no great crowds to see the tall, slim girl off at Croydon. In the terraced houses surrounding the airport the residents went about their everyday business unaware that flying history was being made.

True a handful of reporters turned up to witness Amy’s departure, and one of them went as far as to write four paragraphs for his newspaper.

That was the sum of the interest that the world at large was taking in Amy Johnson.

Nobody thought for one minute that she would ever do it. Even her father, when he kissed his daughter goodbye, hoped at best that Amy would not kill herself trying.

Amy Johnson had no radar, no radio, none of the aids to navigation with which a modern aircraft is equipped. She virtually had to map-read her way half-way round the world.

The first leg of her flight proved uneventful, and ten hours after taking off Amy arrived in Vienna.

The airport was deserted. It was cold and chilly. Amy climbed stiffly out of her cockpit and eventually found a caretaker who made her a hot drink and found her somewhere to sleep.

Next day she took off for Constantinople, and her landing on a military airport infuriated the Turks.

They raged and blustered and refused Amy permission to continue her journey. But the next day she took off for Aleppo.

And in her path lay the Taurus mountains. Amy decided her best way of overcoming this obstacle was to fly along a ravine, following the railway line that crossed the range.

The little Moth swayed and bounced its way through the disturbed air, great jagged peaks rising on either side of it.

Suddenly Amy flew into a cloud. She was completely blind.

Grimly she flew straight on, hoping for the best. And half a minute later the plane emerged from the cloud – heading straight for the mountainside.

A quick touch of the rudder and the Moth was back on course.

And so, with the odd incident breaking into the steady drone of that small but gallant engine, Amy’s journey continued.

She flew by day, refuelled and serviced the plane in the evenings, and flew on next day.

In the Persian Gulf a raging sandstorm engulfed the little plane in mid-air.

Hardly able to see, her face feeling as if it were being stung by a hundred bees, Amy drove the plane on. Then, with a final choking cough, the engine died.

Down glided the Moth into the brown murk. The first Amy knew of any contact with the ground was when the wheels bounced.

Miraculously the plane bumped to a halt, and Amy got her luggage out to weigh down the tail in the high wind.

Then, taking out the revolver she always carried in the cockpit, she crouched down by the side of the plane waiting for she knew not what.

But no wild or savage tribesmen appeared and after a couple of hours the storm subsided, and Amy was able to start again.

Into Karachi, across India, Amy struggled on. But by now the effects of days of flying were beginning to tell. Weary-eyed, her concentration gave way as she neared Rangoon, and as she landed, her aircraft rolled into a ditch and jolted to a halt.

The undercarriage and propeller were damaged and two precious days were lost repairing them.

As a result Amy, who had been well ahead of record-breaking schedule, suddenly found her margin had vanished.

On she went to Singapore, and soon after ran out of fuel, and had to land in a sugar cane plantation.

The cane ripped the fabric from the wings. Amy, undeterred, borrowed shirts to patch up the damage.

Soon she was on the last lap of her epic journey – out over the sea on the way to the island of Timor, her last stopping place before Australia.

But when it grew dark and she had not arrived on the island the Dutch authorities were worried.

By this time of course the whole world was following the flight of Amy Johnson, and on Timor her coming had been eagerly awaited.

By now it was dark and the Dutch mournfully concluded that Amy Johnson had perished somewhere in the shark-infested Timor Sea.

True, Amy herself disliked flying over water.

“Just the sky and the revolting sea, and dreading every moment that your engine will stop,” she said.

But on this occasion what had happened was that Amy had landed on the wrong side of the island.

She made a rough landing and immediately found herself surrounded by hostile-looking tribesmen.

They carried her off, waving their spears. But instead of popping her into the traditional cooking pot, Amy found herself at the door of the local Dutch missionary!

The next day she was off again on the last 450 miles across the sea to Darwin, Australia.

Time seemed to pass so slowly. Hour after hour passed by and the tiny Moth droned patiently on and on.

Then she passed over a tanker. The crew crowded on deck to wave. Amy, cheered by this sudden contact, dropped the cake she was eating on to the deck like a bomb.

Soon afterwards she was over the mainland, and gliding over the heads of the thousands of Australians waiting to greet her.

It was exactly 3.57 p.m. on May 24, 1930, and her record-breaking trip had taken 19 ½ days.

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