Women Pilots, from W.1 to W.168

When the Women's Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary was formed in 1939, they looked around for experienced British Empire women pilots.

Well, there weren't very many. According to one of the best of them, Gabrielle Patterson, this was because up to 1938 "women pilots hitherto have consisted only of those with large enough bank balances".

Gabrielle had then helped to set up the Civil Air Guard, which offered subsidized flying lessons for the less-well-heeled, but many of their pupils hadn't even managed to complete their 'A' Licence before all civilian flying was stopped at the outbreak of WWII.

Anyway, after a while, the ATA found that they had run out of women with 250 hours, then 150, 50, and eventually they decided that they would have to train their own pilots from scratch. And even then, they had to import some Americans!

If you're interested, their average age on starting with the ATA was 27.5, ranging from the youngest (Jackie Sorour) who was 20 years and 5 months, to the oldest (Grace Brown) who was over 43.

Two women (Lois Butler and Faith Bennett) continued flying when they were over 45, but the average age at which the women completed their ATA service was 30.1.

Four women - Patricia Provis (W.158), Rhoda Heppell (W.61), Joy Gough (W.149) and Joan Cunnington (W.121) were only 22 when they completed their ATA Service.

Starting in late 1940, the ATA had a system of giving their women ferry pilots, as soon as they successfully completed the training course, a (sequential) "W." number - they retrospectively allocated numbers 1-25 to the women who were around at the time. The last one, Aimee de Neve, was W.168.

* Some records are missing or incomplete, so I have estimated the W. No from their known start dates.


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