On this day: Amy Johnson breaks record

By Patrick Hsiao 7 November 2013
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On 24 May 1930 Amy Johnson became the first aviatrix to conquer the London to Darwin solo flight.

AFTER 19 DAYS of flying 26-year-old British aviatrix Amy Johnson touched down in Darwin to world acclaim, claiming the title of first female to fly solo from England to Australia.

Born on 1 July 1903 in Hull, England, Amy completed a degree in economics in 1923, and then went on to work for a London solicitor as a secretary until 1929.

Her interest in aeroplanes began two years before she attempted her record-breaking crossing and spent two years paying for flying lessons at the London Aeroplane Club. After 85 hours of flying, she was awarded her flying licence in 1929, only a year before her epic 11,000km journey.

Before her long trip from the British Isles to Australia, Amy hadn’t even flown over the English Channel; however, she was convinced that women could be as proficient in aeroplanes as men, and so Amy set off from London in her DH Gipsy Moth on 5 May 1930.

Problems with the plane on the solo flight 

Despite being a talented pilot, she encountered a number of hurdles on the trip. It was a route which two Australian lieutenants, Ray Parer and John McIntosh had failed to complete before her in 1920. They had suffered numerous mechanical failures and it took them almost 40 days to reach Cairo, Egypt at which point they abandoned their attempt.

Amy’s first road block came en route to Baghdad, Iraq, when she encountered strong winds and low visibility forcing her to land in the desert and wait for conditions to clear. She also damaged her plane landing in Rangoon, Burma, and again in the East Indies. 

Despite this, The Northern Territory Times reported when she landed in Rangoon “she was two days ahead of Bert Hinkler’s record.” Hinkler flew from London to Darwin in 16 days. Ultimately, further delays meant Amy failed to break Hinkler’s record.

Darwin applauds Amy Johnson

“The largest concourse of people and cars ever seen in Darwin assembled to welcome the girl flyer.” reported The Northern Territory Times 24 May 1930.

Amy’s arrival in Darwin drew a flurry of local and international press, and when she arrived back in the UK, Amy was congratulated by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and awarded a Commander of the British Empire title.

“What Amy did for the aviation industry was she gave an enormous lift to the women pilots around Australia. She really turned the corner for them,” says Australia’s first female helicopter pilot Rosemary Arnold.

Following her first achievement, Amy would go on to fly two more record distances: first, between London and Tokyo in 1931, then twice between London and Cape Town, South Africa both in 1932, reclaiming that record again in 1936.

In the years that followed, Amy also married and divorced fellow aviator Jim Mollison with whom she flew several flights. These included flying from Wales to the United States and competing in the London to Australia Air Race.

In World War II she began working for the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying planes from factories to airbases. Sadly, Amy drowned in 1941 while attempting to deliver at plane in bad weather conditions, bailing out into the Thames River. Her body was never recovered, and so the full story of her death remains a mystery.

Amy Johnson's record breaking 1930 flight route. (Credit: Getty)
Amy Johnson’s record-breaking 1930 flight route. (Credit: Getty)