Amy Johnson Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Pioneering female pilot, considered by many to be the British equivalent of Amelia Earhart.

Amy Johnson earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics from the University of Sheffield in 1926. Despite her education, she found it difficult to find suitable employment in an era when few women worked outside the home. She reluctantly accepted a secretarial position and instead chose to challenge herself through hobbies.

One of those hobbies was the relatively new field of aviation. During the winter of 1928-1929, Johnson learned to fly at the London Aeroplane Club. She earned private and commercial pilot’s licenses and was qualified as a navigator. She was also the first woman in England to be certified as a ground engineer.

Determined to find an area in which women could compete equally with men, Johnson focused her attention on distance flying. She planned a solo flight from England to Australia, with the intention of beating the previous record of sixteen days, held by Bert Hinkler. With the support of her father, a successful merchant, and financial backing from Lord Wakefield, Johnson purchased a used De Havilland DH-60G Gipsy Moth. She named the open-cockpit biplane Jason, after the trademark for her family business.

Johnson set off from Croydon, a suburb of London, on May 5, 1930, making her first stop in Karachi, India, and breaking the record for that distance by two days. Bad weather and damage from a landing near Rangoon delayed her progress, however, and she landed in Darwin, Australia, on May 24, 1930, after 11,000 miles and nineteen and one-half days in the air. Although Johnson did not break the record, she did gain fame as the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia. She was nicknamed “Queen of the Air” by the British press and named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

More records followed. In July, 1931, Johnson and copilot Jack Humphreys set the England-to-Japan record. They followed with record-breaking flights from England to Capetown in 1932. In 1932, Johnson married leading British pilot and long-distance flier Jim Mollison, with whom she attempted an around-the-world flight. They crashed in Connecticut, however, and were divorced in 1938.

In 1939, at the start of World War II, Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a pool of experienced pilots ineligible for duty in the Royal Air Force (RAF) who ferried planes from factories to bases. While flying a mission from Blackpool to Oxford, Johnson was caught in a storm and blown off course. Her plane ran out of fuel and she was forced to ditch into the Thames Estuary. Although observers spotted a parachute, her body was never recovered, and Johnson was presumed drowned. After her death, a song, “Amy, Wonderful Amy,” was written in her honor.

  • Cadogan, Mary. Women with Wings: Female Flyers in Fact and Fiction. Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1992. Profiles of a wide variety of women in aviation, from eighteenth century balloonists to twentieth century astronauts.
  • Grey, Elizabeth. Winged Victory: The Story of Amy Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. A biography of pioneer female pilot Amy Johnson.
  • Welch, Rosanne. Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1998. A reference work containing a broad overview of women’s roles in the fields of aviation and space.

Military flight

Record flights

Women and flight

World War II

Categories: History