W.11  Flight Captain Joan Lily Amelia Hughes MBE

flag england

 b. 28 April 1918, Woodford, Essex 1 Jan 1940 to 31 Dec 1945 


  1935 - London Aeroplane Club



Father: Arthur Edward Hughes, a braid manufacturer,, mother: Lily Amelia [Lekeup] of Acreage, Harlow Common, Harlow, Essex

Educated 'privately'. 5 foot 2, build: slight, eyes: hazel.


"Miss Joan Hughes, who will be sixteen in April, is working hard to become an efficient aviator" - The Sketch, Mar 1934

"Miss Joan Hughes, a schoolgirl, says her ambition is to run an air-taxi service in partnership with her brother" - Leeds Mercury, 4 Apr 1934


She celebrated her 17th birthday by qualifying for her RAeC Certificate, making her, at the time, the youngest flyer in Great Britain.

She became an instructor with Chigwell Flying Club, then joined the Civil Air Guard at Romford in 1938.

prev. exp. 620 hrs (at the time, the women needed 600 hrs to join ATA)

Postings: 5FPP, AFTS, EFTS, 1FPP, 6FPP, 15FPP

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

Margaret, Mona and Joan in January 1940

The youngest of the 'First Eight' women ATA members who joined on the 1st January 1940, she mostly continued as an instructor, eventually at the Advanced Flying Training School at White Waltham. She did, however, ferry many types of aircraft, including Hurricane, Spitfire, Lysander, Typhoon, Mosquito, York, Fortress, Lancaster, Halifax, Liberator and Stirling.

 1942 caricature by 'Sammy' Clayton

She had 4 mishaps (one deemed to be her fault); 

- 12 Dec 1940, her Oxford skidded on loose ice on the runway

- 22 Aug 1941, a forced landing in Hurricane N2588 when the undercarriage jammed

- 4 Jun 1942, a landing accident when she was instructing Jocelyne Hotham in Hart K6486, which swung and tipped onto a wing,

- 22 Dec 1944, another forced landing in a Stirling III, LJ506. This was due to "[Port Outer] No 12 cylinder induction elbow blowing off")


One of the iconic images of the ATA - Joan, dwarfed by a Stirling (Brief Glory)

Her flying was always highly praised: "First Officer Hughes is an exceptionally good and level-headed pilot. She has worked extremely hard and conscientiously ... a capable pilot on the Stirling; of above average ability, who, in spite of her small stature, handled the aircraft in a most satisfactory manner. She is to be complimented on such an excellent performance."

One small criticism, however: "her technical knowledge is a long way behind her flying ability & she should spend more time in study of this branch."

After WWII Joan moved to the West London Aero Club in White Waltham, then the British Airways Flying Club at Booker.

She coached Kenneth More for his role as Douglas Bader in the film 'Reach for the Sky' (1956).

She was awarded her RAF 'Wings' in June 1954, the last of 5 women (all ex-ATA pilots) to do so when serving with the short-lived (1 Feb 1949 - 1954) Women's Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (WRAFVR). The others were Jean Bird, Jackie Moggridge, Freydis Leaf and Benedetta Willis. 

 In 1956, Veronica Volkersz wrote that Joan was one of ".. only seven [women ATA pilots] are now flying commercially ... Five-foot-nothing Joan Hughes, one of the few ATA girls who did the Class 5 conversion, subsequently ferrying four-engine bombers and instructing on Harvards and Hudsons, is chief flying instructor of the West London Aero Club at White Waltham"

She concluded that "The tragedy is that for women, commercial aviation is now - except, possibly, in Russia - a closed field."


n 1961 she was awarded the Jean Lennox Bird Trophy; she had trained more than 50 pilots during the year.


In 1965 she flew a replica of a 1909 Santos-Dumont Demoiselle in the film "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines", and then a replica in simulated dog-fights for the film "The Blue Max". She later visited the US where she appeared on a television quiz show as a mystery guest.

Miss Hughes was one of the display pilots at the Shuttleworth Trust during the 1960s: "These aircraft are wonderfully removed from scientific aircraft. Everything depends on the pilot's skill, so you feel more personally involved. Apart from that you are open to the weather".

Bob Brion tells me that "Joan was my instructor at White Waltham in 1955 flying Tiger Moths... [She] treated me as an equal in what was a different world in the 50s. I have always had the greatest respect for her and her accomplishments.

A great lady."

She retired in 1985 with 11,800 hours in her logbook, 10,000 of which were as instructor, and "devoted herself to tennis, music and country walks".

She died age 74, on the 16 August 1993 in Taunton, Somerset.


 Download ATA Pilot Personal Record (.zip file):download grey

IWM interview here: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80008455


  • Articles View Hits 526048


DSCI1060 1

Please feel free to send me your comments, requests, extra information or corrections.

Click here: Email Me