Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA)

“Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront". 

 Lord Beaverbrook 30th November 1945.

Molly Rose

Molly Daphne Rose, OBE, DL, JP born 26th  November 1920  died 16th October 2016 aged 96 was a British aviator who flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary in World War II and later served as a magistrate in Oxfordshire. Her father, David Marshall, formed Marshall Motor Holdings and Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group.

Having enjoyed flying as a passenger in her brothers de Havilland Gipsy Moth, it was unsurprising that in 1937 she passed her pilot's licence. Her father David Gregory Marshall (otherwise known as "DGM") had, developed the Marshall Motors business he set up in 1909 and her brother, Arthur, set up the Cambridge Flying School. On returning from schooling in Paris, Molly's father suggested she became an apprentice engineer and she worked in the hangars of the family business, which she did, until called up by the Air Transport Auxiliary, on 16th September 1942. During her time with the ATA, Molly delivered 38 different types of aircraft, which is broken down to 486 aircraft, of which 276 were Spitfires. After the war, she raised three sons with her husband Bernard and became a Justice of the Peace in Oxford. She was active raising funds for various charities in Oxfordshire, was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire in 1983 and was awarded the OBE for Service to Oxfordshire in 1990. Molly also service as a Parish Councillor in the village of Appleton in Oxfordshire.

 Air Transport Auxiliary, founded at the outbreak of World War II, was a civilian organization which made an enormous contribution to the war effort by taking over from service pilots the task of ferrying RAF and Royal Navy warplanes between factories, maintenance units and front line squadrons, but not to naval aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty, and performed some air ambulance work. Notably, many of its pilots were women, and from 1943 they received equal pay to their male co-workers, a first for the British government. During the war, 1245 men and women from 25 countries ferried a total of 309,000 aircraft of 147 different types, without radios or guns, with no instrument flying instruction and at the mercy of the British weather. Often they were presented with a type of plane they had never seen before. The Air Transport Auxiliary’s headquarters was at White Waltham airfield near Maidenhead from February 1940 until 30th November 1945. The idea of using civilian pilots as a kind of Territorial Air Force was put forward in 1938, when the Civil Air Guard was formed to offer subsidized flying training to people up to 50 years old. There were also many pilots who had learned to fly in the 1920’s and 1930’s who were either too old or unfit for RAF service but wanted to use their flying skills in some way in the impending conflict. So in September 1939, just days after the outbreak of the war the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) came into being as an adjunct of the airline BOAC.

During the war the ATA flew 415,000 hours and delivered more than 309,000 aircraft of 147 types, including Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes,  Mosquitoes, Mustangs, Lancasters, Halifaxes, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Barracudas and Flying Fortresses.

The average aircraft strength of the ATA training schools was 78. A total of 133,247 hours were flown by school aircraft and 6,013 conversion courses were put through. The total flying hours of the Air Movement Flight were 17,059, of which 8,570 were on domestic flights and 8,489 on overseas flights. About 883 tons of freight were carried and 3,430 passengers were transported without any casualties. Total taxi hours amounted to 179,325, excluding Air Movements.

Initially, to comply with the Geneva Convention, as many of the ferry pilots were civilians and women, aircraft were ferried with guns or other armament unloaded, however after encounters with the Luftwaffe, in which the ferried aircraft were unable to fight back, RAF aircraft were ferried with guns fully armed, it is also a sad fact that a total of 174 pilots, women as well as men, were killed while encountering the Luftwaffe.

The ATA recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for either the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm by reason of age, fitness or gender. A unique feature of the ATA was that physical handicaps were ignored if the pilot could do the job, thus there were one armed, one legged, short sighted and one eyed pilots, humorously the ATA was often referred to as "Ancient and Tattered Airmen".

The ATA also took pilots from neutral countries. Representatives of 28 countries flew with the ATA.

Most notably, the ATA allowed women. The female pilots nicknamed "Attagirls" had a high profile in the press.

These women pilots were initially restricted to non combat types of aircraft (trainers and transports), but they were eventually permitted to fly virtually every type flown by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, including the four engined heavy bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats. Hurricanes were first flown by women pilots on 19th July 1941, and Spitfires in August of the same year.

The first ATA pilots were introduced to military aircraft at the RAF’s Central Flying School (CFS), but the ATA soon developed its own training programme. Pilots progressed from light single engined aircraft to more powerful and complicated aircraft in stages. They first qualified on one “class” of aircraft, then gained experience on that class by doing ferrying work with any and all aircraft in that class, before returning to training to qualify on the next class of aircraft. As a result, pilots made progress on the basis of their own capabilities rather than on a rigid timetable. This ensured not only that as many pilots as possible advanced, but that those that could not were still gainfully employed flying the aircraft types on which they had qualified.

Once cleared to fly one class of aircraft, pilots could be asked to ferry any plane in that class even if they had never seen that type of aircraft before. To do so they had Ferry Pilot Notes, a two ring book of small cards with the critical statistics and notations necessary to ferry each aircraft. A pilot cleared on more than one class could be asked to fly an aircraft in any of the categories on which he or she was qualified. Thus even a pilot cleared to fly four engined bombers could be assigned to fly a single engined trainer if scheduling made this the most efficient way to get the aircraft to its destination.

The ATA trained its pilots only to ferry planes, rather than to achieve perfection on every type. For example, aerobatics and blind flying were not taught, and pilots were explicitly forbidden to do either, even if they were capable of doing so. The objective of the ATA was to deliver aircraft safely and that meant taking no unnecessary risks.