Air Transport Auxiliary

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Air Transport Auxiliary
Active15 February 1940–30 November 1945
CountryUnited Kingdom
Size16 ferry pools (1944)
Air Movement Flight Unit
2 Training Units
1,152 pilots (male) 168 pilots (female)
151 flight engineers
19 radio officers
27 ATC and Sea cadets
2,786 ground staff
Command HQWhite Waltham, Maidenhead
Nickname(s)call sign: Lost Child
Ferdinand (overseas)
Motto(s)Latin: Aetheris Avidi
"Eager for the Air"
Anything To Anywhere
Decorations2 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 headquartered 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 naval aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed some air ambulance work. Notably, some of its pilots were women, and from 1943 they received equal pay to their male co-workers, a first for the British government.


The initial plan was that the ATA would carry personnel, 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. At one time there were fourteen ATA ferry pools as far apart as Hamble, between Southampton and Portsmouth, and Lossiemouth near Inverness in Scotland.

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, a World War II Minister of Aircraft Production, gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the ATA at White Waltham on 30 November 1945:[3]

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.


Commendation for ATA pilot Ruth Kerly

During the war the ATA flew 415,000 hours and delivered more than 309,000[4] aircraft of 147 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; but a total of 174 pilots, women as well as men, were killed flying for the ATA in the wartime years.[5] Total taxi hours amounted to 179,325, excluding Air Movements.[6]

Initially, to comply with the Geneva Convention, as many of the ferry pilots were nominally civilians and/or women, aircraft were ferried with guns or other armament unloaded. However, after encounters with German aircraft in which the ferried aircraft were unable to fight back, RAF aircraft were ferried with guns fully armed.


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,[1] 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 Royal Air Force stations.[7] The ATA's Central Ferry Control, which allocated the required flights to all Ferry Pools, was based at RAF Andover.

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]


First Officer Maureen Dunlop
Diana Barnato Walker climbing into the cockpit of a Spitfire.

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, fitness or gender. 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, humorously referred to as "Ancient and Tattered Airmen".

The ATA also took pilots from neutral countries. Representatives of 28 countries flew with the ATA.[8]

Most notably, the ATA allowed women pilots to ferry aircraft. The female pilots (nicknamed "Attagirls")[9] had a high profile in the press. On 14 November 1939 Commander Pauline Gower MBE was given the task of organising the women's section of the ATA.[10] The first eight women pilots were accepted into service on 1 January 1940, initially only cleared to fly Tiger Moths from their base in Hatfield.[11] They were: Joan Hughes, Margaret Cunnison, Mona Friedlander, Rosemary Rees, Marion Wilberforce, Margaret Fairweather, Gabrielle Patterson, and Winifred Crossley Fair.

Overall during World War II 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 and Poland. From Argentina and Chile came Maureen Dunlop and Margot Duhalde.[12] Fifteen of these women lost their lives in the air, including the British pioneer aviator Amy Johnson and Joy Davison.[13] Two of the women pilots received commendations; one was Helen Kerly.[14]

A notable American member of the ATA was legendary aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran who returned to the United States and started a similar all female organization known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

These women pilots were initially restricted to non-combat types of aircraft (trainers and transports), but they were eventually permitted to fly virtually every type flown by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, including the four-engined heavy bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats. Hurricanes were first flown by women pilots on 19 July 1941, and Spitfires in August 1941.[11]

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.[15] At the same time American women flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were receiving as little as 65 per cent of the pay given to their male colleagues.[16]


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 according to a rigid timetable. This ensured not only that as many pilots as possible advanced, but that those who could not were still gainfully employed flying the aircraft types on which they had qualified.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[17]


ATA ranking system and equivalent RAF ranks[18]
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


The following units were active in the ATA:[19]

  • No. 1 Ferry Pool ATA White Waltham, Maidenhead
Previously: No. 1 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA <- 'A' Section of No. 3 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 2 Ferry Pool ATA Whitchurch, Bristol
Previously: No. 2 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA <- 'B' Section of No. 3 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 3 Ferry Pool ATA Harwarden, Chester
Previously: No. 3 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA <- 'C' Section of No. 3 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 4 Ferry Pool ATA Prestwick, Ayrshire
Previously: No. 4 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 5 Ferry Pool ATA Thame, Oxfordshire (Training Unit)
Previously: No. 5 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA <- 'D' Section of No. 3 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA <- Women's Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 6 Ferry Pool ATA Ratcliffe, Leicester
Previously: No. 6 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 7 Ferry Pool ATA Sherburn-in-Elmet, Leeds
Previously: No. 7 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 8 Ferry Pool ATA Sydenham, Belfast
Previously: No. 8 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 9 Ferry Pool ATA Aston Down, Gloucestershire
Previously: No. 9 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 10 Ferry Pool ATA Lossiemouth, Moray
Previously: No. 10 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA <- No. 4 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 12 Ferry Pool ATA Cosford, Shropshire
Previously: No. 12 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 15 Ferry Pool ATA Hamble, Southampton
Previously: No. 15 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 16 Ferry Pool ATA Kirkbride, Carlisle
Previously: No. 16 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA <- No. 4 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 14 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA Ringway, Manchester
Previously: No. 14 Ferry Pilot Pool ATA
  • No. 5 (T) Ferry Pool ATA
Previously: (Training) Ferry Pool ATA
  • Initial Flying Training School ATA
Previously: Elementary Flying Training School ATA <- ATA School
  • Air Movements Flight ATA (1942–45)
  • Advanced Flying Training School ATA (1942–45)
Previously: ATA School

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. p. 12
  2. ^ a b Air Transport Auxiliary, Air Transport Auxiliary. (Handbook) pp. 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. ^ Philip Kaplan and Andy Saunders, Little Friends: the Fighter Pilot Experience in World War II England (Random House, 1991) p.158
  6. ^ Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots p. 308
  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. ^
  10. ^ Barnato Walker, Diana. Spreading My Wings p. 42
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ Cheesman, p.90
  13. ^ "ATA Personnel". Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  14. ^ Cole, Paul. "Mystery of the Spitfire Heroine". Birmingham Evening Post.
  15. ^ Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots p. 200
  16. ^ Schrader, Helena. Sisters in Arms. p. 32
  17. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory: The Story of A.T.A.. p. 58
  18. ^ D. Collet Wadge, Women in Uniform, Imperial War Museum, 2003, p. 381, 382.
  19. ^ Lake 1999, p. 308.




  • Air Transport Auxiliary, Air Transport Auxiliary. (Handbook) White Waltham: Reminder Book, 1945.
  • Barnato Walker, Diana. Spreading My Wings. Patrick Stephens, 1994 ISBN 1-85260-473-5
  • 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.
  • Ellis, Mary. A Spitfire Girl. Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2016.
  • 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.
  • Hathaway, Warren. Pursuit of a Dream: The Story of Pilot Vera (Strodl) Dowling. Edmonton, Canada: PageMaster Publishing, 2012.
  • 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, Alison. 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. Republished as: Moggridge, Jackie. Spitfire Girl. My Life in the Sky. London: Head of Zeus, 2014.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wheeler, Jo. The Hurricane Girls: The Inspirational True Story of the Women who Dared to Fly. London: Penguin Books, 2018. ISBN 978-0-241-35463-6
  • Whittell, Giles. Spitfire Women of World War II. London: Harper Press, 2007.


  • 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]

Online films[edit]