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Woman ATA Pilot and Beaufighter

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Woman ATA Pilot and Beaufighter


Old 27th Feb 2009, 17:41
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Woman ATA Pilot and Beaufighter

Can any PPruners help track down a tale about the early days of Beaufighters?- my splendidly active and fascinating 85 yr old friend and neighbour, who is an ex-Beaufighter, Spitfire XIV and Catalina pilot, would like to know if it is true.

The tale is that in the early days of the Beaufighter (before he flew them) the reputation for torque-related swing, especially on take-off, had caused a general reluctance to fly the beast. All that changed when a Beaufighter arrived on delivery - it may or may not have performed a bit of a display - and when it landed, out climbed a diminutive ATA woman pilot. After that ... no-one was prepared to show any lack of manly keenness to fly the Beaufighter!

I vaguely recall hearing the tale years ago but cannot track it down. If someone can help, we'd be very grateful and, in return, I'll post his tale of a Beaufighter wheels-up landing with unexpected results!
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Old 27th Feb 2009, 18:11
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Early Beaufighters

I recently interviewed a former Beaufighter pilot who told me about this - the problem was with the Merlin engined version.
The reason was the propellors turned in the opposite direction to the Bristol engines and because the airframe was set up for these a nasty swing could develop.
He said the thing to look for on an airfield was bashed-up hangar doors as a sign a Mk II Beaufighter had been there!
I interviewed him at the Camden Museum near Sydney.
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Old 27th Feb 2009, 21:14
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I also recall having heard or perhaps have read of the lady ATA pilot who delivered the Beaufighter doing a display but, although the story may have been rather embellished by the time I heard it, my recollection of the tale included a single engined element of the display. The more cynical amongst those watching were alleged to have asserted that it was a Bristol test pilot doing the show to prove to them how manageable the Beaufighter was, but it was one of the more petite ladies who disconcerted the chaps when she removed her flying helmet and shook out her tresses. I cannot recollect the name of the lady (anno domini prevails).
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 11:53
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I also remember reading of this event - many many years ago. For the life of me I can't remember where, but have a feeling that it may have been in a book by John Cunningham's partner in the early radar-equipped nightfighters. They started with Beaufighters before changing to Mossies.
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Old 8th Mar 2009, 19:17
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Guy Gibson writes of this in "Enemy Coast Ahead", whilst flying Beaufighters, having a "rest" from Bomber Command on night fighter ops.
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Old 16th Mar 2009, 20:22
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Women ATA pilots

When I worked at Shoreham Airport in the late 1950s, an ex well known ATA pilot, Joan Hughes was a regular visitor. I believe she was not much more than 5ft tall. I failed an RAF pilots course, which I believe that was at least partly due to my not easlily being able to apply full rudder in an Oxford because of my height (5ft 6).I believe that Joan Hughes was not the only diminutive ATA pilot. How they flew heavies, I have no idea.
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Old 16th Mar 2009, 20:32
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In "Spreading My Wings" Diana Barnato-Walker lists the Beaufighter amongst the types she flew with the ATA...

I suppose I had better read the book again!
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Old 17th Mar 2009, 20:51
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Thanks all - I thought I'd finally got it sorted when I recently got hold of a copy of "Spitfire Women" by Giles Whittell - the story of the ATA. It is an excellent book and an easy read BUT ... barely a mention of the Beaufighter and certainly nothing about this incident.

I'll follow up your various leads and report back when I find the answer.

And now to my part of the deal. My neighbour was returning to base at East Fortune in a Beaufighter when the undercarriage would not lower. He gave his nav/gunner/rad op the option to bail out but the chap gamely decided to stick with him. He pulled off what he rather proudly felt was a virtually perfect wheels-up touchdown with only a slight bounce, except for one small detail ... he had not switched the guns to 'safe' and as he bounced he inadvertently pressed the firing button, raking some of the hangars.

At the subsequent 'interview', he was first congratulated on a fine wheels-up landing, and then informed that he had, in one brief moment, done more damage to East Fortune than the Luftwaffe ever achieved.

Last edited by DeepestSouth; 17th Mar 2009 at 20:54. Reason: Mention aircraft type
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Old 17th Mar 2009, 23:13
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Originally Posted by gruntie View Post
I also remember reading of this event - many many years ago. For the life of me I can't remember where, but have a feeling that it may have been in a book by John Cunningham's partner in the early radar-equipped nightfighters. They started with Beaufighters before changing to Mossies.
You mean 'Night Fighter' by C.F. Rawnsley & Robert Wright? Rawnsley was Cunninghams's operator on both tours (Blenheim/Beaufighter first tour, Mosquito second). Very well read copy here in my study and almost certain no mention of incident with ATA pilot. Time for another read ... as if I needed an excuse as it is a superb book.
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Old 19th Mar 2009, 10:21
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I believe this story was related in a BBC documentary about women pilots in wartime screened some 10 to 15 years ago. As I remember it was told by an ATA pilot who gave it as an example of how they slowly became accepted by their male colleagues.
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Old 19th Mar 2009, 18:09
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The story is in chapter X of Enemy Coast Ahead by Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC:

But despite the small trouble we had, other squadrons had begun to look upon it as a suicide ship. There is a story that one particular squadron in the north had got to the stage when they almost refused to fly it. They said that it stalled too quickly and that it was unmanageable in tight turns. They were sitting about one foggy day on their aerodrome when there was no flying possible, and were discussing the subject heatedly, when suddenly a Beau whistled over their heads at about 100ft, pulled up into a stall turn, dropped its wheels and flaps and pulled off a perfect landing on the runway. Naturally, this attracted a lot of attention. They all thought that this pilot must have been one of the crack test pilots who had come up to show them how. As it taxied up to the watch office, they all crowded around to get the gen. However, a lot of faces dropped to the ground when from underneath the Beau crawled a figure in a white flying-suit, capped by blonde, floating hair; it was one of the ATA girls. I am told that this squadron had no trouble from Beaus from that day on.
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Old 19th Mar 2009, 21:20
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Many, many thanks, Beagle - especially for copying out the text! My friend John will be absolutely delighted.


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Old 20th Mar 2009, 18:09
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Glad to have been able to help!

I think I first read about this 'ATA girl' back in the 1950s! When I probably knew more about Beaufighters than I did about girls!
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Old 25th Mar 2009, 16:48
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By coincidence I have just finished reading Diana Barnato Walker's "Spreading My Wings", and she tells a story somewhat like the one you are looking for, although it doesn't involve Beaufighters:

"Lois Butler, who had tried to dissuade me from even joining ATA, was stationed at No. 15 Ferry Pool at Hamble for a short time. She was trim, strong-featured, with sleek blonde hair. She had beautiful hands, was a vision of sex appeal, and an extremely competent pilot.

On 29 December, in the winter of 1944, Margot Gore tannoyed for a few of us, including Lois, telling us that a certain RAF squadron along the coast had suffered losses in aircraft so we were to take a batch of new Mosquito XXXs (mine was NT307) to them from various [Maintenance Units] around the country. These new aeroplanes, which were of a later Mark, would have slightly different flying characteristics to those which they had recently lost, so the RAF crews would no doubt welcome seeing girls bring them in without any problems.


Every one of us except Lois arrived safely, being certain to make careful - and beautiful - landings. [...] Whilst we were awaiting Lois' arrival, we joked and flirted with the young pilots, who asked us who was coming in next. Lois had married at 16, and her daughter, also 16, had herself had a baby. So one of us chirped up, 'The flying grandmother!'.


Lois did a dainty landing, taxied in and then emerged from the underhatch looking her usual immaculate self. She apologized for keeping everyone waiting. The RAF pilots, who had obviously expected some grey-haired, doddering old thing, were entranced at the apparition of femininity that had at last turned up."

As Treadigraph mentions, the Beaufighter does appear in the list of aircraft flown by Diana Barnato Walker at the back of the book, but I'm not sure it is mentioned in the text. I'll have a quick flick through tonight and see if there are any further clues to the mystery!
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Old 23rd Sep 2010, 16:21
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joan hughes

Hi there I first learnt to fly at Shoreham 1974 Rollanson Condor by Wilbur Wright (not the original one) I still fly L4 Cub G-LIVH but years ago I was invited to joint the elite 99,s . I was very honoured and Joan Hughes became a great friend of mine and would come and stay weekends along with Shelia Scott.
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Old 23rd Sep 2010, 17:28
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I suppose it's understandable, but there is a danger that some people who dont know the facts will have gained the impression recently that the ATA was entirely "manned" by female pilots. In fact women pilots accounted for less than 15% of the total strength. That's not to knock the achievements of those girls, but I think if I had been a male ATA pilot (do any survive?) or if my father had been one I might be slightly miffed that he was getting overlooked. I suppose half the problem is that these "Ancient and Tattered Airmen" tended to be far less photogenic than the girls, and the press and propaganda people concentrated the latter, but I think it's worth remembering the chaps at the same time
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Old 23rd Sep 2010, 19:06
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... The event in question is probably related to the event
posted some months earlier - in that rumours had spread within Fighter Command that a new fighter under test was about to be entered into operational service - Reputed to be a most fearsome beast to handle - having already accounted for several fatalities and now having the reputation of being difficult dangerous and unforgiving.

And so with considerable apprehension one particular squadron
nervously awaited its arrival. Sitting around on the appointed day - from out of nowhere an a/c skimmed over the field in a low level pass -
performed an aerobatic or two and came in to make a faultless landing. As the a/c came to a stop the airmen sauntered over to greet the new arrival - who by now had stepped down from the plane . As the helmet was removed a shower of blond tresses were revealed to show a young attractive woman ATA pilot.

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Old 29th Sep 2010, 15:15
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Regarding surviving male ATA pilots-talking to one at the North Weald do back in April.
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Old 30th Sep 2010, 13:27
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Old Grumpy

I'm an 88-year old former Beaufighter pilot. I was trained on clapped-out old Blenheims I and IV at Church Fenton, Yorkshire in 1941 before being allowed to go solo for one hour on a Beaufighter Mk I. (second biggest thrill of my life after my first solo on a Miles Magister).
Then I was sent to 219 Squadron at Tangmere as a "trained" night-fighter pilot.
The C.O. promptly whipped me off to St Athan in S.Wales to build up some hours taking up radar technicians to test the radar installations in Beaufighters coming off the production line. In one month I flew 40 hours and was much more acceptable to the Squadron C.O.
The point of my story is that I loved flying the Beau. It was a wonderful a/c, fully armed with 4 cannons and six machine guns. It certainly did have a swing on take-off, but I quickly got used to it and never had any trouble. I flew Marks I to X; the swing was always to port. Contrary to the other thread I read, it was the early Hercules series that had the swing. The Mark II that I flew at St Athan had Merlin engines and was pretty docile. With the inline contour of the Merlin, the visibility was wonderful. Radials were always a little in the way, being ahead of the cockpit.
By the way, I should add that I did not stay as a night-fighter. After a few weeks, 15 crews recently trained as I was at great expense and secrecy, were collected together and sent to the N.Africa desert & Mediterranean area to be ready for El Alamein offensive
That's it!
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Old 30th Sep 2010, 17:36
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Great to hear from you Walter. But I don't believe that really is it! You must have many stories and anecdotes we would love to hear. Please don't take this the wrong way, but you are living history!
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