Air Transport Auxiliary

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Air Transport Auxiliary
Ata-wings-300.jpg
Active 15 February 1940–30 November 1945
Country United Kingdom
Size 14 ferry pools (1944)
Air Movement Flight Unit
2 Training Units
1,152 pilots (male) 166 pilots (female)
151 flight engineers
19 radio officers
27 ATC and Sea cadets
2786 ground staff
Command HQ White Waltham, Maidenhead
Nickname call sign: Lost Child
Ferdinand (overseas)
Motto Latin: Aetheris Avidi
"Eager for the Air"
Unofficial:
Anything To Anywhere
Decorations 2 Commander British Empire (CBE)
13 Officer British Empire (OBE)
36 Member British Empire (MBE)
6 British Empire Medal (BEM)
1 George Medal
6 Commendations
5 Commended for Gallantry
18 King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air

The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was a British civilian organisation set up during the Second World War and based at White Waltham Airfield that ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between factories, assembly plants, transatlantic delivery points, Maintenance Units (MUs), scrap yards, and active service squadrons and airfields, but not to aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed air ambulance work.

Mission[edit]

The initial plan was that the ATA would carry mail and medical supplies, but the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft.[1] By 1 May 1940 the ATA had taken over transporting all military aircraft from factories to Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941 the ATA took over all ferrying jobs.[2] This freed the much-needed combat pilots for combat duty.

A special ATA Air Pageant was held at White Waltham on 29 September 1945 to raise money for the ATA Benevolent Fund, supported by the aircraft companies that had been served by the ATA. It included comprehensive static displays of Allied and German aircraft, including a V1, aero engines, and even an AA gun and searchlight complete with crew. Pilots taking part included Alex Henshaw in a Supermarine Seafire.

Lord Beaverbrook, (Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook), gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the ATA at White Waltham on 30 November 1945:

“Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront.”[3]

Accomplishment[edit]

During the war the ATA flew 415,000 hours and delivered more than 308,000[4] aircraft of 130 types, including Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, Mustangs, Lancasters, Halifaxes, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Barracudas and Fortresses. The average aircraft strength of the ATA training schools was 78. A total of 133,247 hours were flown by school aircraft and 6,013 conversion courses were put through. The total flying hours of the Air Movement Flight were 17,059, of which 8,570 were on domestic flights and 8,489 on overseas flights. About 883 tons of freight were carried and 3,430 passengers were transported without any casualties. Total taxi hours amounted to 179,325, excluding Air Movements.[5]

Administration[edit]

The administration of the ATA fell to Gerard d'Erlanger, a director of British Airways Ltd, which was merged into the British Overseas Airways Corporation(BOAC) in 1940. He had suggested a similar organisation in a letter dated 24 May 1938.

In late August 1939 the ATA was placed under British Airways Ltd for initial administration and finance,[6] but on 10 October 1939 Air Member for Supply and Organisation (AMSO) took over. The first pilots were assigned to RAF Reserve Command and attached to RAF Flights to ferry trainers, fighters and bombers from factory and storage to Air Force stations.[7]

Late in 1939 it was decided that a third and entirely civilian ferry pool should be set up at White Waltham, near Maidenhead in Berkshire. The operations of this pool began on 15 February 1940. On 16 May 1940 RAF Maintenance Command took control through its No. 41 Group. Then, on 22 July 1941, the ATA was placed under the control of Lord Beaverbrook's Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP). Although control shifted between organisations, administration was always carried out by staff led by Commander Gerard d’Erlanger CBE, first at British Airways Ltd, then, after the merger in 1940, at BOAC.[2]

Pilots[edit]

The ATA recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for either the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm by reason of age or fitness. They were therefore humorously referred to as "Ancient and Tattered Airmen". The ATA also took pilots from neutral countries and, notably, women pilots.

First Officer Maureen Dunlop. The female pilots had a high profile in the press.
Diana Barnato Walker climbing into the cockpit of a Spitfire while serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary

A unique feature of the ATA was that physical handicaps were ignored if the pilot could do the job. Thus there were one-armed, one-legged, short-sighted and one-eyed pilots with the ATA.

Representatives of 28 countries flew with the ATA.[8]

In late 1939 Commander Pauline Gower MBE was given the task of organising the women's section of the ATA.[9] There were 166 women pilots, one in eight of all ATA pilots, and they volunteered from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, the Netherlands, Poland and Argentina (which was represented by one pilot, Maureen Dunlop). Fifteen of these women lost their lives in the air, including the British pioneer aviator Amy Johnson.

These women pilots were initially restricted to non-combat types of work (trainers and transports), but they were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, including the four-engined bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats.

One of the many notable achievements of these women is that they received the same pay as men of equal rank in the ATA, starting in 1943. This was the first time that the British government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work within an organisation under its control.[10] At the same time American woman flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were receiving as little as 65 per cent of the pay given to their male colleagues.[11]

Training[edit]

The first ATA pilots were introduced to military aircraft at the RAF’s Central Flying School (CFS), but the ATA soon developed its own training programme. Pilots progressed from light single-engined aircraft to more powerful and complicated aircraft in stages. They first qualified on one “class” of aircraft, then gained experience on that class by doing ferrying work with any and all aircraft in that class, before returning to training to qualify on the next class of aircraft. As a result pilots made progress on the basis of their own capabilities rather than on a rigid timetable. This ensured not only that as many pilots as possible advanced, but that those that could not were still gainfully employed flying the aircraft types on which they had qualified.

Once cleared to fly one class of aircraft, pilots could be asked to ferry any plane in that class even if they had never seen that type of aircraft before. To do so they had Ferry Pilot Notes, a two-ring book of small cards with the critical statistics and notations necessary to ferry each aircraft. A pilot cleared on more than one class could be asked to fly an aircraft in any of the categories on which he or she was qualified. Thus even a pilot cleared to fly four-engined bombers could be assigned to fly a single-engined trainer if scheduling made this the most efficient way to get the aircraft to its destination.

The ATA trained its pilots only to ferry planes, rather than to achieve perfection on every type. For example, aerobatics and blind flying were not taught, and pilots were explicitly forbidden to do either, even if they were capable of doing so. The objective of the ATA was to deliver aircraft safely and that meant taking no unnecessary risks.[12]

Ranks[edit]

ATA ranking system and equivalent RAF ranks[13]
Rank insignia ATA rank Equivalent RAF rank
Senior Commander (ATA).svg Senior Commander Group Captain
Flight Captain (ATA).svg Flight Captain Squadron Leader
First Officer (ATA).svg First Officer Flight Lieutenant
Second Officer (ATA).svg Second Officer Flying Officer
Third Officer (ATA).svg Third Officer Pilot Officer

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. p. 12
  2. ^ a b Air Transport Auxiliary, Air Transport Auxiliary. (Handbook) pg 5-7
  3. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. p. 208
  4. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A. p. 211
  5. ^ Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots p. 308
  6. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. p. 12
  7. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. p. 17
  8. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.p. 92
  9. ^ Walker, Diana Barnato. Spreading My Wings p. 42
  10. ^ Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots p. 200
  11. ^ Schrader, Helena. Sisters in Arms. p. 32
  12. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. p. 58
  13. ^ D. Collet Wadge, Women in Uniform, Imperial War Museum, 2003, p. 381, 382.

Non-Fiction Books[edit]

  • Air Transport Auxiliary, Air Transport Auxiliary. (Handbook) White Waltham: Reminder Book, 1945.
  • Bergel, Hugh. Fly and Deliver: A Ferry Pilot's Log Book. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing, 1982.
  • Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. Leicester: Harborough Publishing, 1946.
  • Curtis, Lettice. Lettice Curtis: Her Autobiography. Walton on Thames: Red Kite, 2004.
  • Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots: A Story of the Air Transport Auxiliary, 1939-45. Olney, Bucks: Nelson & Saunders, 1985 ISBN 0-947750-02-9
  • De Bunsen, Mary. Mount Up with Wings. London: Hutchinson, 1960.
  • Du Cros, Rosemary. ATA Girl: Memoirs of a Wartime Ferry Pilot. London: Muller, 1983.
  • Fahie, Michael. A Harvest of Memories: The Life of Pauline Gower M.B.E.. Peterborough: GMS Enterprises, 1995.
  • Genovese, J. Gen. We Flew Without Guns. Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1945.
  • Great Britain, and Hugh Bergel. Flying Wartime Aircraft; ATA Ferry Pilots' *Handling Notes for Seven World War II Aircraft. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1972.
  • Hawkins, Regina Trice. Hazel Jane Raines, Pioneer Lady of Flight. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996.
  • Hyams, Jacky. The Female Few: Spitfire Heroines of the Air Transport Auxiliary. Gloucester: History Press, 2012
  • King, Allison. Golden Wings. London: C. Arthur Pearson Ltd, 1956.
  • Lucas, Y. M. WAAF with Wings. Peterborough: GMS Enterprises, 1992.
  • Miller Livingston Stratford, Nancy. Contact! Britain!. Createspace, 2011.
  • Moggridge, Dolores Theresa. Woman Pilot. London: Michael Joseph, 1957.
  • Narracott, Arthur Henson. Unsung Heroes of the Air. London: F. Muller, 1943.
  • Phelps, Anthony. "I Couldn't Care Less.". Leicester: Harborough Pub. Co.; sole distributors to the trade: H. Marshall, 1945.
  • Schrader, Helena. Sisters in Arms. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2006.
  • Taylor, Leonard. Airwomen's Work. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1943.
  • Thomas, Nick. Naomi the Aviatrix. Createspace, 2011.
  • Volkersz, Veronica. The Sky and I. London: W.H. Allen, 1956.
  • Walker, Diana Barnato. Spreading My Wings. Patrick Stephens, 1994 ISBN 1-85260-473-5
  • Walters, Anthony Jack. Air Transport Auxiliary (The Lost Child). Wallingford: Aries Publications, 2006.
  • Welch, Ann Courtenay Edmonds. Happy to Fly: An Autobiography. London: John Murray, 1983.
  • Whittell, Giles. Spitfire Women of World War II. London: Harper Press, 2007.

Fiction[edit]

  • Dewar, Isla. Izzy's War. Ebury Press, 2010.
  • Gould, Carol. Spitfire Girls: A Tale of the Lives and Loves Achievements and Heroism of the Women ATA Pilots in World War II. Forfar: Black Ace Books, 1998.
  • Lord Brown, Kate The Beauty Chorus. London: Corvus Atlantic, 2011
  • Matthews, Beryl. A Flight of Golden Wings. Sutton: Severn House, 2007.
  • Morrison, Margaret and Pamela Tulk-Hart, Paid to Be Safe. London: Hutchinson, 1948.
  • Ryan, Garry, Blackbirds (2012) and Two Blackbirds (2014). Calgary, AB: NeWest Press.
  • Schrader, Helena. The Lady in the Spitfire. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, Inc, 2006.
  • Singer, E. M. Mother Flies Hurricanes. Bend, OR: Avidia Cascade Press, 1999.
  • Terrell, George. I'll Never Leave You. San Jose: Writer's Showcase, 2001.
  • Wein, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity (Electric Monkey, 2012) and Rose Under Fire (2013)

Other Books that Mention the ATA's Women Pilots[edit]

  • Bell, Elizabeth S. Sisters of the Wind: Voices of Early Women Aviators. Pasadena, CA: Trilogy Books, 1994.
  • Jaros, Dean. Heroes Without Legacy: American Airwomen, 1912-1944. Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado, 1993.
  • Keil, Sally Van Wagenen. Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines: The Unknown Heroines of World War II. New York: Rawson, Wade Publishers, 1979.
  • Lomax, Judy. Women of the Air. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1987.

External Links[edit]

See also[edit]