The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), responsible for delivering new or repaired planes to RAF bases around the country during the war, used an initial team of eight women pilots to free up time for fighter pilots to concentrate on training.
At the outbreak of the war, the heads of Imperial Airways had got together with plane makers and flying clubs to form the ATA. The daughter of MP Sir Robert Gower, pilot Pauline Gower, was put in charge of forming a women’s section and in 1939 she put together an initial team of eight pilots - including Flight Lieutenant Joan Lily Amelia Hughes (1918-93), who was the youngest of the group nicknamed the ‘Attagirls’.
An MBE medal awarded to her is to be sold by Chilcotts in Honiton on December 12 estimated at £100-200. It is being sold together with a Pike Trophy medal awarded in 1980 and a related scrapbook.
Hughes had asked her parents if she could learn to fly after her brother Douglas started; they both learnt with the East Anglian Flying Club at Abridge. She was just 15 when she took her first solo flight in a Gypsy One Moth biplane, securing her pilot’s licence at 17 to become the youngest flyer in England.
She went on to train as a flying instructor with Rosamund King Everard, but it was during the Second World War that Joan’s skills really came to the fore.
Hughes flew nearly 100 different craft including Stirling and Lancaster bombers (with the help of a cushion and an engineer to help her reach the levers and controls).
After the war she began a career as a stunt pilot – flying Kenneth More’s spitfire in Reach for the Sky (1956) and a replica of the diminutive 1909 Demoiselle in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965). She stood in for George Peppard during the dogfight movie The Blue Max (1966) and served as Lady Penelope’s stunt pilot in the original Thunderbirds series, famously flying under a bridge on the M40 motorway while under construction in 1967.
Dance floor to airfield
Meanwhile, at Exeter saleroom Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood on December 15, six pilot’s log books belonging to Rosemary Rees MBE (1906-95), another of the eight original ATA women, are on offer estimated at £400-600.
They date from June 25, 1933 (Trial Lesson in a Club Cadet) to June 23, 1947, and are offered together with a leather flying helmet, leather gloves, two photograph albums, photographs of Rees as a dancer and related ephemera and books on flying.
Rees began her early career as a dancer travelling around the world and performing in Ceylon, China and the US.
After her trial lesson in 1933 she gained her full licence after only six hours of flying time. By the time she joined the ATA she had obtained her instructor’s licence and over 600 hours flying time.
As one of the first female pilots of the ATA she began to fly a wide range of aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mosquitos as well as larger four engine aircraft. In 1941 she became deputy to Margot Gore at the all-female ferry pool at Hamble-on-Solent, eventually flying 91 different types of aircraft.
In 1946 she began her own charter company called Sky Taxi.