Lettice Curtis, one of the most distinguished women pilots who served with Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II, has died at the age of 99.
Brought up in Devon, she studied Maths at Oxford where she was Captain of the University Women’s Lawn Tennis and Fencing teams. She learned to fly in Sussex and in May 1938 began flying for an air survey company, at a time when very few women made a living from flying.
Lettice joined ATA with the second batch of women in July 1940 and served at Ferry Pools at Hatfiield, Hamble, White Waltham and Ratcliffe, most of her time being with No.1 Ferry Pool at White Waltham.Fiercely professional, she became the first woman to fly a 4-engined bomber (a Halifax, in 1942) and went on to ferry over 364 4-engined bombers as well as 162 Spitfires and 125 Mosquitoes in an overall total of 1467 aircraft ferried. For ATA’s Closing Pageant at White Waltham at the end of September 1945, she brought in a white-painted Liberator bomber.
Her post-war years were spent as a technician and flight test observer at Boscombe Down and later with Fairey Aviation at White Waltham, where she worked with Peter Twiss and on the Gannet flight test programme. She took an active part in British air racing in various aircraft including a Spitfire and her own Wicko G-AFJB. When Faireys was bought by Westland she moved to the Ministry of Aviation and the CAA, then to Sperry at Bracknell, retiring in 1979. In October 1991, she obtained a helicopter licence in a Robinson R-22.
Her 1971 book The Forgotten Pilots is the most authoritative book every written about ATA, full of technical and organizational as well as personal detail. She quotes from her logbook a ‘round Britain tour’ on September 25th 1944 when, starting and ending at White Waltham, she ferried 6 different sorts of aircraft, the largest being a Stirling bomber, the fastest a Spitfire XXI and the smallest a Miles trainer. Wow! And there were plenty more days like this, as ATA pilots provided a continuous supply of aircraft for the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm to fly into battle.