Royal Air Force History
The ATA -
By Cathy M Morgan
Women with Wings
Part 1 - An organisation is born
With the outbreak of the Second World War, it
became apparent that most of the male population were either working
in strategically important reserve occupations or being called up to
fight for their country. At this early time in the war there was great
public show of patriotism. Unfortunately, as time passed it was clear
that there were several problems within the RAF caused the shortage of
A far-sighted man, Gerald d'Erlanger, got permission to start an organisation
to ferry passengers and aircraft around the country. Thus began the ATA,
who eventually moved 309011 aircraft of 140 different types. They cleared
the factories and took the aircraft to maintenance units and other squadrons
of the RAF and Fleet Air Arm.
Britain needed pilots to ferry new aircraft to service airfields and
military bases across the country, from both manufacturer's airfields
and maintenance units. It was not deemed viable to use fully-trained
RAF pilots to ferry the aircraft, so the next best option was reluctantly
accepted, this was to take on civilians who held a pilots licence. According
to official records it was thought that it would take six hundred and
twenty four civilians to replace twelve RAF pilots! For this target to
be reached, it was finally agreed that the civilian pilots had to be
recruited, rather than called up, to ensure the quality of the flying
skills of the applicants and allow a rank structure to be based on experience.
Gerald d'Erlanger was a director for the British Overseas Airways Corporation
(BOAC) when he was approached and requested to instruct the fresh pilot
intake for the ATA. Within a few months, d'Erlanger was asked to become
administrator of the new organisation.
Why was d'Erlanger chosen? Largely for his foresight is the simple answer.
Prior to the outbreak of war, he had contacted the Parliamentary Under
Secretary for Air, Harold Balfour, and the Director General of Civil
Aviation, Sir Francis Shelmerdine, and proposed the creation of a pool
of peacetime civil pilots who could employ their aviation skills in service
of their country. Beyond the ferrying role, d'Erlanger believed that
war would create further demands for the services these civilian pilots
could provide, such as transporting dispatches, mail, supplies, medical
officers, ambulance cases, and the occasional VIP.
Initial interviews and test flights
took place for approximately one hundred would be members of the Air
Transport Auxiliary. To be considered for an interview you had to hold
an A licence and a logbook containing a record of at least two hundred
and fifty flying hours. It did not matter what their background was,
which was unusual at the time, and a good mix of pilots resulted; they
varied from stockbroker to farmer, office worker to artist. Only their
flying ability was important.
After initial training came
flight testing, which was carried out by a BOAC instructor, a Mr McMillian,
who later became the Chief Flying Instructor for the ATA. The women were
issued with a uniform which consisted of dark blue skirt, a forage cap,
light blue RAF shirt, black tie, and a single-breasted jacket bearing
the ATA insignia: a circlet enclosing the letters "ATA", superimposed
on a set of wings. Gold bars on the shoulders would indicate rank.