Lettice Curtis

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Lettice Curtis
Lettice Curtis.jpg
Born(1915-02-01)1 February 1915
Denbury, Devon, England
Died25 July 2014(2014-07-25) (aged 99)[1]
NationalityUnited Kingdom
Known forFlying

Eleanor Lettice Curtis (1 February 1915 – 21 July 2014) was an English aviator, flight test engineer, air racing pilot, and sportswoman.


Curtis was born on 1 February 1915 at Denbury in Devon, a daughter of Eleanor Francis (née Master) and Walter Septimus Curtis (born 1871) of Denbury House. Her father was lord of the manor of Denbury, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn[2] and a grandson of Matthew Curtis (1807–1887) of Thornfield in the parish of Heaton Mersey, Lancashire, a leading manufacturer of cotton-spinning machinery in Britain and thrice Mayor of Manchester.[2] She had one brother and five sisters.[2]

Early life[edit]

Curtis was educated at Benenden School and St Hilda's College, Oxford where, in addition to studying Mathematics, she was Captain of the University Women's Lawn Tennis and Fencing teams.[3] She also played Lacrosse for the University.

She learned to fly in 1937 at the Yapton Flying Club, Ford, West Sussex, earning a B–class license.[4]

Air Transport Auxiliary[edit]

In early July 1940 she became one of the first women pilots to join the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), remaining with the ATA until 30 November 1945, when the organisation was closed down.[3]

Five ATA flyers Lettice Curtis, Jenny Broad, Audrey Sale-Barker, Gabrielle Patterson and Pauline Gower in 1942 by an Airspeed Oxford trainer

She commenced her ATA career by delivering primary training aircraft such as the Tiger Moth, progressing to the Miles Master and North American Harvard advanced trainers. During her ATA service she graduated to fly all categories of wartime aircraft and was one of the first dozen women to qualify to fly four-engined heavy bombers. She was the first woman pilot to deliver an Avro Lancaster bomber and also flew 222 Handley Page Halifaxes and 109 Short Stirlings. She flew continually during World War II from various Ferry Pool locations delivering all types through all weather to various destinations. According to Whittell [pp. 193–94] she flew "thirteen days on, two off, for sixty-two consecutive months", between July 1940 and September 1945. [5]

On 26 October 1942 she was introduced to US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as the first woman pilot to be trained on four engined bombers, during Roosevelt's visit to the ATA at White Waltham Airfield in Maidenhead. By that point, Curtis had already flown 90 different types of aircraft. Her final ATA rank was as First Officer.[4]


Postwar, she became a technician and flight test observer at the A&AEE military aircraft test establishment at Boscombe Down, moving later to Fairey Aviation where she was a senior flight development engineer. She took an active part in British air racing, flying various aircraft including her Wicko and a Spitfire XI owned by the American air attaché in London. She was a founding member of the British Women Pilots' Association.[3][6] She qualified to fly helicopters in October 1992 and continued to fly aircraft until voluntarily "grounding" herself in 1995.[7]

With the nationalisation of the aircraft industry in the sixties she left Fairey for the Ministry of Aviation, working for a number of years on the initial planning of the joint civil/RAF Air Traffic Control Centre at West Drayton. Later under the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority, she worked for the Flight Operations Directorate. Retiring from the CAA in 1976, she took a job with a firm supplying contractors to the Sperry Corporation at Bracknell. [8]

Curtis died in Maidenhead, Berkshire in July 2014 at the age of 99.[9]


  1. ^ "Lettice Curtis obituary". The Telegraph. London. 25 July 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 15th Edition, ed. Pirie-Gordon, H., London, 1937, 1937, p.544, pedigree of "Curtis of Denbury Manor"
  3. ^ a b c Fountain, Nigel (27 July 2014). "Lettice Curtis obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  4. ^ a b Wilson, Betty (28 October 1942). "ROOSEVELT TOUR". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  5. ^ Whittell, Giles (2008). Spitfire women of World War II. London: Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0-00-723536-0. OCLC 225421498.
  6. ^ "65 years of the BWPA". British Women Pilots' Association. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  7. ^ "OBITUARY - LETTICE CURTIS". Royal Aeronautical Society. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  8. ^ "Lettice Curtis - obituary". www.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  9. ^ Ian Richardson. "YAM Saddened at Passing of Patron Lettice Curtis". Yorkshireairmuseum.org. Retrieved 25 July 2014.