Inspirational ATA Female Pilots Honoured

Hatfield based bus company, Uno Buses, commemorated the inspirational women of the Air Transport Auxiliary at the launch of its new bus brand tigermoth on Monday 4 February 2019.

ATA Ladies Credit: Maidenhead Heritage Centre

ATA Ladies Credit: Maidenhead Heritage Centre

Each of the eight buses, branded tigermoth after the de Havilland biplanes manufactured at Hatfield aerodrome, will commemorate one of the first eight women who joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1940. The ladies broke into the all-male world of military flying, something that is now cited as an important chapter in both aviation and women's history.

The ATA was a civilian organisation which ferried planes between factories and front-line RAF airfields during World War II. These first female members of the ATA flew the first delivery of Tiger Moth ‘open cockpit’ planes from Hatfield up to Scotland in the depths of winter in World War II.

The names of the eight trailblazing ATA women pilots were:

Winifred Crossley
Margaret Cunnison
Margaret Fairweather
Mona Friedlander
Joan Hughes
Gabrielle Patterson
Rosemary Rees
Marion Wilberforce

The 8 tigermoth buses will run on Uno’s 653 service between Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City and St Albans. Each bus will have the name of one of the ladies on the front of the vehicle and inside the bus there will be a photo and further information about her life and the ATA.

The eight women joined the ATA on New Year’s Day 1940, recruited by Pauline Gower. Initially, they were restricted to flying non-operational types of plane, such as trainers or communications aircraft. They were also paid 20% less than the men, which was typical of the times. The female pilots became known as the “ATA-girls”.

Pauline Gower eventually won equal flying opportunities for the women. On 19 July 1941, Winnie Crossley was the first woman to be checked out on a Hurricane fighter. In autumn 1942, First Officer Lettice Curtis became the first woman to fly a 4-engined bomber, an achievement shared by just 11 ATA women. Finally in 1943, the women were awarded equal pay to their male colleagues, making ATA one of the first equal opportunities employers.

During the war ATA employed 168 women, including the famous trail-blazing pilot Amy Johnson (killed in January 1941) and a large contingent from the USA, who were recruited by the famous American pilot Jacqueline Cochrane.

Jim Thorpe, Managing Director of Uno Buses, the University of Hertfordshire’s bus company, said: “We’re delighted to be able to honour these amazing women and help share their story as widely as we can. All our teams are so passionate about celebrating our local heritage and to be able to display this incredible part of our history on our buses is something we’re all very proud of.”

Richard Poad, Chairman of The Maidenhead Heritage Centre, the spiritual home of the ATA, explained: “These women flew unarmed, without radio, navigating by map-reading and always at the mercy of the ever-changing British weather. The ‘ATA-girls’ were a very special sisterhood and are superb role models for young women today. We’re really pleased that Uno are helping to tell their story.”

John Lumsden, Treasurer of the ATA Association and nephew of Marion Wilberforce, attended the launch on Monday along with Graham Rose, Chairman of the ATA Association, son of Molly Rose, a member of the ATA who delivered 486 aircraft during World War II.

From left to right: John Lumsden Marion Wilberforce’s nephew, The Mayor of the Borough of Welwyn Hatfield Cllr Barbara Fitzsimons and Jim Thorpe MD of Uno Buses

From left to right: John Lumsden Marion Wilberforce’s nephew, The Mayor of the Borough of Welwyn Hatfield Cllr Barbara Fitzsimons and Jim Thorpe MD of Uno Buses

During the war, over 1250 men and women from 25 countries ferried a total of 309,000 aircraft of 147 different types. In total, 173 ATA aircrew died in ATA service, including Amy Johnson. The first eight women were true pioneers and an inspiration to a new generation of women and girls in the male-dominated aviation field.

In the UK, less than 5% of airline pilots are women. Last year, when UK companies reported their gender pay gap data, British airlines were shown to have large gender pay gaps with the largest being Ryanair at 71.8%. The difference is largely driven by the gender imbalance in the aviation pilot workforce.

Easyjet, which reported a 45.5% gender pay gap, is one of the airlines taking positive action to attract more female pilots. In 2015, EasyJet launched the Amy Johnson Flying Initiative in a drive to double the number of female new entrant pilots to 12 per cent over two years. Having reached that target in 2016, the airline set a more ambitious target of 20 per cent by 2020.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet CEO, commented:

“It’s hugely encouraging to now see that of the new entrant pilots we have attracted over the past year that 15% are now female and that the ambitious goal of 20% is in our sights and we don’t plan to stop there! We continue to work hard to encourage more women to join this hugely rewarding profession and from a starting point of 6% in 2015 to 15% this year is a real achievement.

As well as encouraging applications from women now, we also recognise we need to start young so that we can be simultaneously changing perceptions of the career and so improving the gender balance of the profession for years to come. That is why our pilots have completed more than 100 school visits last year and we signed up to sponsor the Girlguiding Aviation badge for Brownies to get girls interested in flight at an early age.”

Johan Lundgren was appointed as chief executive of Easyjet in December 2017 and voluntarily took a five per cent pay cut to match his salary to his female predecessor Carolyn McCall.

Our thanks to Chloe Leach-O’Connell for sharing the incredible story from Uno and the ATA. If you have an inspirational story about women in transport that you would like us to share, please contact us at

Follow us @transportwm or on Linkedin Women in Transport for events, news and updates.