ATA and Aviation News and Events at Maidenhead Heritage Centre
LEAP YEAR DAY IN ATA
Posted 29 February 2016
Most of us would be hard pushed to remember what we did on the last February 29th, in 2012. But thanks to our fascinating collection of ATA logbooks, we can see what ATA pilots were doing on the two leap year days during World War II, in 1940 and 1944. In 1940, ATA had very few pilots, including only 8 ladies who were based at Hatfield and delivered Tiger Moths to training airfields all over the country. So we find Marion Wilberforce, later CO of Cosford Ferry Pool, taking a Tiger from Hatfield to Kemble in the Cotswolds. By February 29 1944 ATA had hundreds of pilots and the logbooks are much more revealing.
Ed Ballard (USA) took a Lancaster from Coventry to Coningsby, while his wife Ruth flew an Anson air taxi for three trips. Vi Milstead (Canada) flew two Spitfires and a Mustang, while Peter Mursell (Director of Training) flew two air taxi flights, a Tempest from Langley to Aston Down, and Typhoons from there to Manston in Kent and back to Langley. Philippa Bennett flew an Albermarle, a Halifax bomber and two air taxi flights; Diana Barnato-Walker flew two Spitfires while ATC cadet Phil Rogers (based at Hamble) rode as pilot’s assistant in a Hudson from Gosport to White Waltham, and in a Walrus amphibian back to Lee on Solent. Flight Engineer Bernard Wadsworth, who died last December, was a passenger in an Anson from White Waltham to Hawarden, took a Mitchell from there to Bicester, then another taxi flight back to White Waltham.
All in day’s work!
CHINESE PILOT IN ATA
Pilots came from 25 countries around the world to fly for ATA. It is Chinese New Year on Monday 8th February, when the Year of the Monkey begins, so it is appropriate to record details of the one Chinese pilot who worked for ATA for 8 months in 1941. His name was Raymond Lu Yu Chang and he joined ATA as a second officer on 18 February 1941. In the diary of Arnold Watson we find two entries about Chang. On 6 March 1941, when Watson was a teaching navigation to his students, he wrote: “Today I passed out my first Chinese pupil – Chang “B” license son of the Chinese Generalissimo Chang Kai Sheck. Another pupil was flying the mail from Cologne to London in 1919. But he had never seen a modern compass or directional gyro”. Almost 5 months later there is another diary entry on 30 July 1941, when Watson wrote: “Chang, our only Chinese pilot, came in too fast and about 100 feet high over the boundary in a new Spitfire. He might have got away with it on dry ground, but his wheels locked and skidded on the sodden turf and he was still doing about 20 m.p.h when he went down a gun pit and over on his nose at the far end of the field. Then a school Hurricane had to land with the wheels stuck up; it only came out from repairs in the hangar this morning”. For unknown reasons Chang left ATA on 6 October 1941.
For unknown reasons, Chang left ATA on 6 October 1941.
White Waltham Airfield is marking 80 years of aviation history this week. Maidenhead Heritage Centre chairman RICHARD POAD takes a look back over the site’s heritage.
Eighty years ago this week, pilot training began at the new White Waltham Airfield just west of Maidenhead, a tradition which has continued almost unbroken ever since.
Now the airfield is home to West London Aero Club; then, in 1935, it was operated by the De Havilland School of Flying, teaching students for the RAF Reserve.
Their planes were mainly De Havilland bi-planes Tiger Moths.
Tiger Moths are still in evidence at White Waltham 80 years later.
The Second World War saw the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) move its headquarters to White Waltham.
From bases up and down the country, its civilian pilots, men and women, took over from the RAF the routine movement of aircraft between factories, maintenance units and front-line squadrons.
More than 309,000 service aircraft were ferried by ATA pilots during the war. ATA is Maidenhead’s most important claim to wartime fame and its amazing story is told in a permanent exhibition at Maidenhead Heritage Centre in Park Street.
After the war, a number of famous aviation companies made their home at White Waltham – notably Fairey Aviation and Fairey Air Surveys.
The Gannet was test flown here and the revolutionary Fairey Rotodyne, the world’s first vertical take-off airliner, made its first flight at White Waltham in November 1957.
Sadly the Rotodyne project was cancelled five years later.
Meanwhile Fairey Air Surveys planes flew all over the world, from Australia to modern Zimbabwe; many of their aerial photos of Maidenhead are included in a temporary exhibition at the heritage centre.
ML Aviation and its predecessor companies worked at the airfield for more than 50 years.
Its Malcolm ‘bubble hood’ gave wartime fighter pilots greatly increased visibility and was installed in planes, including the Typhoon.
ML built a tiny aeroplane with an inflatable wing, which was the world’s first microlight, although it never went into production; neither did an ejection seat, a pilotless target-towing drone or the miniature Sprite spy helicopter.
But Bomb storage and Release Units were a huge success and installed in Jaguar and Tornado planes by the RAF.
The RAF itself occupied the south side of the airfield between 1946 and 1973, and Prince Philip learned to fly there. He made his first solo on December 21, 1952, then flew himself to Sandringham for Christmas.
RAF Home Command was here, while air cadets flew gliders and Chipmunk trainers, as did the students of the University of London Air Squadron.
The Ministry of Defence sold White Waltham in 1982. Since then the West London Aero Club has operated the airfield. The airfield is a centre of excellence for aerobatic flying and many club members keep their planes here; the oldest resident plane was built in the Thirties.
Last year saw many vintage military aircraft passing through on their way to D-Day celebrations, and during this year’s Battle of Britain commemoration, Spitfires and Hurricanes filled the skies above White Waltham.
Few grass airfields anywhere in the world have such a fabulous aviation heritage. Maidenhead should be proud of it.
AUTUMN EXHIBITION FROM 17 SEPTEMBER TO 20 FEBRUARY 2016
MAIDENHEAD FROM THE AIR
Fascinating aerial photographs of Maidenhead and the surrounding area, dating from the 1920′s to the present day. Some of the photographs were taken by Fairey Air Surveys, based at White Waltham for 20 years, while others have been taken by modern drones. Free admission.
AIR TRANSPORT AUXILIARY AGM HELD AT MAIDENHEAD
On Friday 4th September the ATA held their AGM and Dinner in Maidenhead. Amongst those attending were ATA Pilots, Molly Rose, Mary Ellis, Joy Lofthouse and Peter Garrod.
On Saturday 5th September many members came to the Heritage Centre to fly the Spitfire Simulator and then moved to White Waltham (the old headquarters of the ATA) to attend the Aeroclub Open Day. They were shown round a Spitfire 1X by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
70th ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY
On the 70th anniversary of VE-Day we salute the 173 men and women who lost their lives in ATA service. Proportionately men died in larger numbers than the women who suffered only 17 fatalities, including Janice Harrington who was killed with Dora Lang on 2 March 1944 when their Mosquito crashed while carrying out a go-around at RAF Odiham. Both are buried at All Saints’ Cemetery in Maidenhead. The LAST ATA pilot to be killed was the South African Rosamund Everard-Steenkamp who died ferrying a Spitfire for 41 Group in January 1946 – many weeks after ATA was wound up.
ATA MEMORIAL UNVEILED AT YORKSHIRE AIR MUSEUM
On April 11th a memorial to the men and women of ATA was unveiled by ATA veteran Martin Nicholson, who lives in Yorkshire. Also attending the ceremony was ATA veteran Peter Garrod, who lives in Hampshire, and members of the ATA Association, including relatives of ATA veterans. The photographs show the wording of the plaque, which was commissioned by the ATA Association, and the veterans standing proudly in front of it.
At Maidenhead Heritage Centre we are proud that among the 100 ATA logbooks in our collection are copies of the logbooks of Martin Nicholson and Peter Garrod. Filmed interviews with both men are available for researchers, and Peter kindly allowed us to copy photographs from his personal photo album. Both Martin and Peter have flown our fabulous Spitfire simulator, and a visit to Youtube will show Peter demonstrating his flying skills! He is still an active pilot, flying from Lee-on-Solent.
Other memorials to ATA have been erected at White Waltham, Whitchurch, Ratcliffe, Ringway and Hamble. If you know of any others, please contact us.
ATC Cadet Ron Neal RIP
We have just learned from Ken Fostekew at the Museum of Berkshire Aviation of the passing of Ron Neal on the 26th March. Ron along with Don Ellis were 16 year old ATC Cadets attached to ATA. Ron served from 22/1/41 to 27/11/43. He had some memorable flights with ATA and was full of yarns. He flew with Jim Mollison to Hullavington in a Ventura and had to crawl into the tail to release the tailwheel as it had jammed; for that Jim treated Ron to a slap up lunch in the mess. On another occasion Ron and another cadet went to Scotland with Commodore Gerard d’ Erlanger in a PBY (Catalina) amphibian for mooring training. At the end of each session both boys were soaked to the skin, d’ Erlanger gave them both a £1 each for their supper and a trip to the cinema. Ron flew as “pilot’s assistant” with Lettice Curtis, Joan Hughes in Halifaxes,Lancasters etc..
Ron obtained his Private Pilot’s Licence and was a founder member of the embryo Fairey Aviation Flying Club at White Waltham. After his many years with Fairey Surveys, redundancy happened, as it did with many of us. Ron then moved to Lydd in Kent and flew with a company photographing shipping in the channel for US Naval Intelligence ?? until retirement age 65. His last years were spent house bound and then bed ridden, but that did not stop him writing many interesting articles for aviation magazines, some of which are in the archive at Maidenhead Heritage Centre.
Ron’s funeral is on the 21st April at the Charing Crematorium nr Ashford, Kent.
Note re ATC Cadets: ATA employed teenaged Air Training Corps cadets (and at Belfast Sea Cadets) as messengers and general dogsbodies. They got to fly as pilot’s assistants in aircraft where, for example, the pilot could not reach the emergency undercarriage handle. They enjoyed a great deal of ‘street cred’ as a result. The archive at Maidenhead Heritage Centre includes the logbook of ATC Cadet Phil Rogers, who was attached to the all-women ferry pool at Hamble. One ATC cadet, Geoffrey Regan was killed on 20 June 1945 in an accident while flying in a Hudson with pilot Miss Leslie Murray. She was practising single-engined flying, and the aircraft span into the ground near Taplow, about 3 miles north east of White Waltham. Other White Waltham ATC cadets included Rod Edginton and Larry Lambourne, both of whom still live in this area.
Remembering First Officer Donald Hoare ATA
With deep regret we record the death on April 3rd of ATA First Officer Don Hoare, who lived at Flackwell Heath near High Wycombe. Don joined the RAF in 1940 and was trained as a pilot in 1942 in the USA, then posted to a Wellington squadron. He moved to ATA and served with ATA from 6 February 1943 until 15 April 1945. Throughout that time he was based at No 9 Ferry Pool at Aston Down, which was also home to an RAF fighter squadron. During his time with ATA, Don flew 34 different types, flew 769 hours and made 548 deliveries. Since Aston Down was designated an Invasion Pool in 1944 (along with White Waltham), Don found himself flying Ansons with supplies and personnel into and out of Europe. His first flight across the Channel was on 18 September 1944, to Caen with 1500lbs of freight and 4 passengers. Two days later he went to airfield B59 just inside Belgium with 1500 lbs of freight and 5 passengers. His logbook entries demonstrate the invaluable service ATA provided in shipping freight into France in support of the advancing allies.
Don received an ATA commendation in January 1944. The citation reads “On 28 January 1944 First Officer D H Hoare was ferrying a Typhoon when the engine failed completely. He managed to reach a nearby small airfield and made a successful landing with the wheels down and without damage to his aircraft.” His log book tells us that the aircraft was MN247, which he collected from Brockworth in the Cotswolds. The destination is recorded as Northleach (the “small airfield” of the citation) , with a flight time of 10 minutes. His notes, written in a neat hand, say “Forced landing – u/c down – no damage – defect fuel pump seizure”. Exactly two months later he had to make another forced landing, this time in a Spitfire. Our archive includes a filmed interview with Don which we recorded about 3 years ago.
Don Hoare (left) with Peter George at the opening of flew 769 hours. in October 2011
When he left ATA, Don served with the Fleet Air Arm, then with BEA and British Airways – his civilian aircraft were the Viking, Viscount, Comet and BAC One-Eleven. This photo shows him is in BA uniform. Don served on the committee of the ATA Association for several years.
“He has slipped the surly bonds of earth…”
February 15th marked another very important 75th anniversary for ATA and White Waltham. For on that date in 1940, ATA ferrying operations commenced from the first all civilian ferry pool at White Waltham. Until then, ATA pilots had been attached to the RAF’s existing Ferry Pools at Hucknall (Derby)and Filton (Bristol). The new pool at WW was initially designated No.3 Ferry Pool and its headquarters was a wooden hut at the east end of the main hangar occupied by the RAF Elementary Flying Training School No.13.The new pool was required to clear new aircraft from specific factories in the midlands and the south of England. So WW was a good centre from which to collect Masters from Woodley, Hurricanes from Langley and Oxfords and Tiger Moths from Hatfield. Initially, only one Tiger Moth available as a taxi aircraft so most return journeys were made by train, which could take forever.In the first 3 weeks the 40 pilots at WW (including speedway ace Wally Handley and famous names such as F D Bradbrooke, Douglas Fairweather and Philip Wills) shifted 260 aircraft, with more work being piled on them every day. After 6 weeks, 640 aircraft of 17 different types had been delivered, with only one being damaged through the fault of an ATA pilot.Eventually ATA was to ferry 309,011 aircraft, an average of 141 aircraft every day for 6 years. Here in Maidenhead we are determined that this amazing achievement should never be forgotten.
75 YEARS AGO – FIRST 8 WOMEN JOIN ATA
We cannot let January end without recording that it is 75 years since the first 8 women were signed up by ATA, on 1 January 1940. Eventually 164 women would service as pilots with ATA, and 4 as flight engineers (out of a total aircrew workforce of 1246).Originally it was proposed to recruit a larger first batch of women “as an experiment”, but the numbers were whittled down by a nervous establishment. So the first eight were wheeled out at Hatfield in mid-January (on a sunny day) for the press, who made them “scramble” – towards a line of Tiger Moths.
MARY VILLIERS – IN MEMORIAM
MARY VILLIERS of Horsham, Sussex, died peacefully aged 95 on 3rd January.
Mary served with ATA from 1 June 1943 until 31 October 1945, during which time she flew around 550 hours and 31 different types. The museum here in Maidenhead has a copy of her log book, which shows that within 3 days of joining as an ab initio pilot she was having her first flying lesson at ATA’s own flying school at Thame. Once she passed all the initial training she was posted to Cosford and Sherburn-in-Elmet before going back to Thame in December for conversion to Class 2 aircraft: single engine fighters for which training was carried out on the Harvard. After this she was posted in July 1944 to Sherburn (in Yorkshire) and then as ATA began to run down she went to Ratcliffe (nr Leicester) in March 1945. In June 1945 she did a Class 4 conversion course (operational twins), which is in some ways surprising at that stage of the war. Back at Ratcliffe, her flying including several trips as second pilot to Flt Capt Johnny Spiller in Sunderland and Catalina flying boats with destinations such as Beaumaris in Anglesey and Wig Bay in south west Scotland. Her very last day’s flying with ATA was 17 October 1945, when she flew an Auster, a Spitfire and a Harvard. Such was the variety of flying life in ATA.
Our archive includes a film interview with Mary when her spirit and sense of humour are very evident. She has slipped the surly bonds of earth.
SPITFIRE SIMULATOR GETS AN OVERHAUL
Our popular Spitfire simulator is now even more realistic. New scenery software (including the Shard and the Olympic stadium) has been installed, and the view from the cockpit of the outside world has been made even better by installing three much larger screens. Even more reason for coming to fly with us!
SPITFIRE GIRL – a new ATA book
Spitfire Girl is the revised and expanded autobiography of First Officer Jackie Moggridge of ATA. Jackie was born in South Africa, took to flying at an early age, ferried 1438 aircraft for ATA between July 1940 and the end of 1945. She married during the war, but despite the birth of two daughters couldn’t keep away from flying. She gained her wings with the RAF, flew a Spitfire to Burma for the Burmese Air Force and became one of Britain’s first lady airline captains. Her book has been revised by her daughters who have added a wonderful selection of photographs from the family albums. The book is a terrific read, and is available now from Maidenhead Heritage Centre, price £8.99 plus P&P. To buy just give us a call on 01682 780555.
LETTICE CURTIS – IN MEMORIAM
We record with sadness the death on 21 July 2014 of Lettice Curtis at the age of 99. One of the most distinguished of Britain’s women pilots, Lettice Curtis served with Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II, ferrying war planes between factories and front line squadrons. She served with ATA from 6/7/40 until 30/11/45.
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. Film in our collection at Maidenhead shows her walking away from the aircraft with a huge grin on her face!
Her 1971 book The Forgotten Pilots is the most authoritative book every written about ATA and is available from the museum. It is full of technical and organizational as well as personal detail. and has no less than 22 appendices! 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.
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.
Lettice was a patron of Yorkshire Air Museum, to which she gave her ATA uniform and her ATA logbook.
CELEBRITY ANTIQUES ROAD TRIP FILMS AT HERITAGE CENTRE
The BBC’s Celebity Antiques Road Trip is an addition to the growing number of film crews using the Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition. The crew came on Wednesday 19th June to film an episode of Celebity Antiques Road Trip, which was screened in November 2014. In the picture below actress Nina Wadia, the Celebrity, is getting instruction from Christopher Hobbs on flying the Spitfire Simulator.
BATTLE OF BRITAIN VETERAN FLIES THE SIMULATOR
A Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot came to fly our simulator on Friday 21st June 2014. He was Sqdn Leader Alan Scott; – he joined the RAF in WW2 a bit later after a bad crash in Tiger Moth, this entailed a 6 months repair job in hospital! – flew Spits and Hurricanes – then onto Malta in 1942 – towards end of war working as test pilot at Kemble, he was ‘loaned to ATA at Aston Down for a while’. He is 92 in July and very fit – he climbed in and out of the simulator quite easily!
Alan enjoyed his extended flight and had full control immediately – when asked about aerobatics – Christopher Hobbs said no problem! So off he went – rolls and loops!