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Air Transport Auxiliary
Active 15 February 1940–30 November 1945
Country United Kingdom
Size 14 ferry pools (1944)
Air Movement Flight Unit
2 Training Units
1,152 pilots (male) 166 pilots (female)
151 flight engineers
19 radio officers
27 ATC and Sea cadets
2786 ground staff
Command HQ White Waltham, Maidenhead
Nickname call sign: Lost Child
Ferdinand (overseas)
Motto Latin: Aetheris Avidi
"Eager for the Air"
Any craft, anywhere
Decorations 2 Commander British Empire (CBE)
13 Officer British Empire (OBE)
36 Member British Empire (MBE)
6 British Empire Medal (BEM)
1 George Medal
6 Commendations
5 Commended for Gallantry
18 King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air

The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was a British World War II civilian organisation that ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between UK factories, assembly plants, transatlantic delivery points, Maintenance Units (MU), scrap yards, and active service squadrons and airfields—but not to aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed air ambulance work.



The original intended usage was to transport mail and medical supplies. However the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft.[1] By 1 May 1940, they took over transporting all military aircraft from the factories to the Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941, the ATA took over all ferry jobs.[2 ] This freed the much-needed combat pilot for combat duty. Lord Beaverbrook, (Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook), gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the 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.”[3]


During the war, the service flew 415,000 hours and delivered over 308,000[4] aircraft of 130 types including Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, Mustangs, Lancasters, Halifaxes, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Barracudas and Fortresses. The average aircraft strength of the ATA training schools was 78. 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 was 17,059 of which 8,570 were on UK internal flights and 8,489 on overseas flights. 883 Tons of freight was carried and 3,430 passengers transported without casualty. Total taxi hours amounted to 179,325 excluding Air Movements.[5]


The administration of the organisation fell to Gerard d'Erlanger, a director of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). He had suggested a similar organisation prior to the war in a letter dated 24 May 1938. In late August 1939, the ATA was placed under British Airways Ltd. for initial administration and finance.[6] On 10 October 1939, Air Member for Supply and Organisation (AMSO) took over the control of the ATA. The first pilots were assigned to RAF Reserve Command and attached to RAF Flights to ferry trainers, fighters and bombers from factory and storage to Air Force Stations.[7]

Late in 1939, it was decided that a third and entirely civilian ferry pool at White Waltham near Maidenhead in Berkshire should be set up. Operations of this pool began 15 February 1940. On 16 May 1940, RAF Maintenance Command through 41 Group, took control. Then on 22 July 1941, the ATA came under the control of the Ministry of Production (MAP). Although control shifted to these many departments, administration was always done by BOAC with Commander Gerard d’Erlanger CBE.[2 ]


The organisation recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for reasons of age or fitness for either the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm (therefore humorously referred to as "Ancient and Tattered Airmen"), pilots from neutral countries and, notably, women pilots.

Diana Barnato Walker climbing into the cockpit of a Spitfire whilst serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary

A unique feature of the ATA is 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 with the ATA. Representatives of 28 countries flew with the ATA.[8]

In late 1939, Commander Pauline Gower MBE was given the task of organising the women's section of the ATA..[9] There were 166 women pilots (one in eight of the entire service) who volunteered from Britain, the Commonwealth (Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), United States, the Netherlands, Poland and one from Chile. Fifteen lost their lives in the air, including the British pioneer aviatrix Amy Johnson. One of many notable achievements of the women is that they earned the same pay as men in equal rank as the men flying with the organisation starting in 1943. This was the first time that the British Government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work, within an organisation under its jurisdiction.[10] (Note, at the same time, American woman flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASP, were earning as little as 35% less than male colleagues.)[11] Although initially restricted to non-combat types (i.e. trainers and transports), women pilots were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and Fleet Air Arm including the four-engined bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats.


Although the first ATA pilots were introduced to military aircraft at RAF’s Central Flying School (CFS), the ATA soon developed its own training program. 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 of any and all aircraft in that class before returning to training to qualify on the next class of aircraft. As a result, pilots progressed based on their own capabilities, rather than on a rigid timetable. This not only ensured that as many pilots as possible advanced, but 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 perfection on every type. For example aerobatics and blind flying were not taught and pilots were explicitly forbidden from doing either, even if capable of doing so. The objective of the ATA was to safely deliver aircraft and that meant taking no unnecessary risks.[12]


ATA ranking system and equivalent RAF ranks[13]
Rank insignia ATA rank Equivalent RAF rank
Senior Commander (ATA).svg Senior Commander Group Captain
Flight Captain (ATA).svg Flight Captain Squadron Leader
First Officer (ATA).svg First Officer Flight Lieutenant
Second Officer (ATA).svg Second Officer Flying Officer
Third Officer (ATA).svg Third Officer Pilot Officer

See also


  1. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A. . pg 12
  2. ^ a b Air Transport Auxiliary, Air Transport Auxiliary. (Handbook) pg 5-7
  3. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. pg 208
  4. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. pg 211
  5. ^ Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots pg 308
  6. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. pg 12
  7. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. pg 17
  8. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. pg 92
  9. ^ Walker, Diana Barnato. Spreading My Wings pg 42
  10. ^ Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots pg 200
  11. ^ Schrader, Helena. Sisters in Arms. pg32
  12. ^ Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. pg 58
  13. ^ D. Collet Wadge, Women in Uniform, Imperial War Museum, 2003, p. 381, 382.


  • Air Transport Auxiliary, Air Transport Auxiliary. (Handbook) White Waltham, England: Reminder Book, 1945.
  • Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. Leicester: Harborough Pub. Co, 1946.
  • Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots: A Story of the Air Transport Auxiliary, 1939-45. Nelson & Saunders, Olney, Bucks, 1985 ISBN 0-947750-02-9
  • Schrader, Helena. Sisters in Arms. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2006.
  • Walker, Diana Barnato Spreading My Wings, Patrick Stephens, 1994 ISBN 1-85260-473-5


  • Air Transport Auxiliary, Air Transport Auxiliary. (Handbook) White Waltham, England: Reminder Book, 1945.
  • Bergel, Hugh. Fly and Deliver: A Ferry Pilot's Log Book. Shrewsbury, Eng: Airlife Pub, 1982.
  • Cheesman, E. C. Brief Glory, The Story of A.T.A.. Leicester: Harborough Pub. Co, 1946.
  • Curtis, Lettice. Lettice Curtis: Her Autobiography. Walton on Thames: Red Kite, 2004.
  • Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots: A Story of the Air Transport Auxiliary, 1939-45. Henley-on-Thames: Foulis, 1971.
  • De Bunsen, Mary. Mount Up with Wings. London: Hutchinson, 1960.
  • Du Cros, Rosemary. ATA Girl: Memoirs of a Wartime Ferry Pilot. London: Muller, 1983.
  • Fahie, Michael. A Harvest of Memories: The Life of Pauline Gower M.B.E.. Peterborough: GMS Enterprises, 1995.
  • Genovese, J. Gen. We Flew Without Guns. Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1945.
  • Great Britain, and Hugh Bergel. Flying Wartime Aircraft; ATA Ferry Pilots' *Handling Notes for Seven World War II Aircraft. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1972.
  • Hawkins, Regina Trice. Hazel Jane Raines, Pioneer Lady of Flight. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1996.
  • King, Allison. Golden Wings. London, England: C. Arthur Pearson Limited, 1956.
  • Lucas, Y. M. WAAF with Wings. Peterborough: GMS Enterprises, 1992.
  • Moggridge, Dolores Theresa. Woman Pilot. London: M. Joseph, 1957.
  • Narracott, Arthur Henson. Unsung Heroes of the Air. London: F. Muller, 1943.
  • Phelps, Anthony. "I Couldn't Care Less.". Leicester: Harborough Pub. Co.; sole distributors to the trade: H. Marshall, 1945.
  • Schrader, Helena. Sisters in Arms. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2006.
  • Taylor, Leonard. Airwomen's Work. London: Sir I. Pitman & sons, ltd, 1943.
  • Volkersz, Veronica. The Sky and I. London: W.H. Allen, 1956.
  • Walker, Diana Barnato. Spreading My Wings: One of Britain's Top Woman Pilots Tells Her Remarkable Story. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1994.
  • Walters, Anthony Jack. Air Transport Auxiliary (The Lost Child). Wallingford: Aries Publications, 2006.
  • Welch, Ann Courtenay Edmonds. Happy to Fly: An Autobiography. London: J. Murray, 1983.
  • Whittell, Giles. Spitfire Women of World War II. London: Harper-Press, 2007.


  • Gould, Carol. Spitfire Girls: A Tale of the Lives and Loves Achievements and Heroism of the Women ATA Pilots in World War II. Forfar: Black Ace Books, 1998.
  • Matthews, Beryl. A Flight of Golden Wings. Sutton: Severn House, 2007.
  • Morrison, Margaret and Pamela Tulk-Hart, Paid to be Safe. London, England: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1948.
  • Schrader, Helena. The Lady in the Spitfire. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, Inc, 2006.
  • Singer, E. M. Mother Flies Hurricanes. Bend, OR: Avidia Cascade Press, 1999.
  • Terrell, George. I'll Never Leave You. San Jose: Writer's Showcase, 2001.

Books that reference the ATA women:

  • Bell, Elizabeth S. Sisters of the Wind: Voices of Early Women Aviators. Pasadena, Calif: Trilogy Books, 1994.
  • Jaros, Dean. Heroes Without Legacy: American Airwomen, 1912-1944. Niwot, Co: University Press of Colorado, 1993.
  • Keil, Sally Van Wagenen. Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines: The Unknown Heroines of World War II. New York: Rawson, Wade Publishers, 1979.
  • Lomax, Judy. Women of the Air. New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead, 1987.

External links

See also



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