In these words Diana Barnato Walker describes the Blenheim, which ATA ferried 8569 times, with a peak annual rate of 3512 in 1941-42. Diana goes on: ‘BUT its single-engine safety speed (115-120mph) was above its final approach speed of 90mph, which meant that if one engine packed up on finals and you were under the safety speed, then you simply went in – bang! This happened to my friend Bobby Lowenstein (a millionaire Belgian killed at White Waltham on 29 March 1943)’. Note: 4 other ATA pilots including an American and a Pole were killed in Blenheim accidents.
Diana devised the “Barnato Bomb Approach”, her way of pulling both engines right back, then gliding in from a great height; in this way with no power needed on finals, you wouldn’t drop a wing and stall in if an engine suddenly stopped on you.
On 12 December 1943 Diana flew a Blenheim IV from Cosford to Stoney Cross in the New Forest, one of 8569 delivered by ATA. The delivery chit was marked “N.E.A.” meaning “Not Essentially Airworthy” or fit for one flight only. The aircraft V6527 was destined to be used as a target on a bombing range!
Lettice Curtis is rather more formal in her description of the Blenheim, which had carried out the first wartime reconnaissance over Germany on 3 September 1939 and dropped the first bombs of the war on a German target the following day. This is an extract from Lettice’s book ‘The Forgotten Pilots’.
‘There was nothing complicated about the Blenheim, the most memorable thing being the quite remarkable inconvenience of the cockpit layout. The majority of Blenheims had two position airscrews – pitch change being effected by pulling or pushing a knob. The pitch change controls were sited on a panel behind the pilot’s seat, adjacent to a couple of similar knobs which operated the ‘idle cut-out’, the means of stopping the engines by cutting off the fuel. Inevitably accidents occurred from time to time when pilots stopped the engines instead of changing pitch. The carburettor air controls and the handles by which the engine cowling gills were wound closed for takeoff and open for taxi-ing were also behind the pilot. The plunger type controls which operated undercarriage, flaps and an hydraulic selector were crowded into a metal box between the two cockpit seats, on which one invariably skinned one’s knuckles and for good measure, the engine doping pumps and starter magneto switches were in the engine nacelle, the main ignition switches on the pilot’s instrument panel and the engine starter buttons in the cabin roof. Once one had got used to all this, it was pleasant and simple aircraft to fly.’
From Ferry Pilots Notes – Teach Yourself to Fly a Blenheim.
15 February 1940 was a real landmark in the history of ATA. On that date 80 years ago, ferrying operations began from No. 1 Ferry Pool at White Waltham. The airfield was occupied by the RAF’s Elementary Flying Training School 13, so ATA was a cuckoo in the nest. Within 12 months White Waltham would be so busy that EFTS 13 was forced to move elsewhere.
The ATA pilots who came to White Waltham are listed in The Forgotten Pilots. Our photo archive contains photos of most of them, but we would be interested to know whether any of their logbooks survive. 25 of them were from the original intake who signed up on 11 September 1939, including one-eyed, one-armed Stuart Keith Jopp, speedway ace Wally Handley and Graham Head, extracts from whose diary appear in earlier news in this section of the website. By the end of 1940, three of the pilots (Fields, Clark and Cummings) would be killed. Five would be Commanding Officers of Ferry Pools: Handley at Hawarden (3 Ferry Pool), Vincent at Ringway ( sub-pool of Hawarden), White at Prestwick (4 Ferry Pool), Wills at White Waltham (1 Ferry Pool) and Sandeman at Ratcliffe (6 Ferry Pool). Bradbrooke would be Chief Ferry Officer, Napier Chief Technical Officer and White (a BOAC pilot) in charge of the training pool.
On Remembrance Sunday let us remember the 173 men and women who died in ATA service. These casualties represent 14% of the total aircrew workforce of 1250 pilots and flight engineers. The first casualty was Douglas King, killed in April 1940 and the last was South African Rosamund Everard Steenkamp, killed in January 1946 while ferrying for 41 Group RAF. However the number of women casualties was proportionally fewer than the men. As Peter George said: ‘The women were more reliable than the men. They didn’t take the same damn fool risks.‘
Male or female, they will be remembered with gratitude.
101-year-old Eleanor Wadsworth (nee Fish) is Britain’s last remaining female ATA pilot, and is enjoying life in Bury St. Edmunds. A few months ago, she agreed to support the creation of a new trophy based on a laminated wood Spitfire lathe block – used to form the aluminium spinners for the MkIX/XIV models.
Justine Morton OBE, director of RAFCT, suggested the trophy be used as the Royal International Air Display Chief Executive Award for Outstanding Contribution. It was awarded for the first time on 21st July 2019 to the Spanish Navy’s EAV-8B Harrier Duo Display and will continue to raise funds through corporate sponsorship.
The trophy, plinth and display graphics were designed by Malcolm Neale of Crimson Cat, a Nottingham creative agency.
HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY!
Today, June 12th, is the 100th birthday of ATA veteran Nancy Miller Stratford, who lives in California, USA. Nancy was one of the American women recruited for ATA by Jackie Cochran, joining on July 9 1942 and serving until July 8 1945. Nancy wrote a fascinating book called Contact! Britain! which is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Contact%21+Britain%21&i=digital-text&ref=nb_sb_noss