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Jean Gardner Batten CBE (15 September 1909 – 22 November 1982) was a New Zealand aviatrix. Born in Rotorua, she became the best-known New Zealander of the 1930s, internationally, by taking a number of record-breaking solo flights across the world.

Contents

Biography

Jean Batten was born in Rotorua, New Zealand, in 1909, the daughter of a poor dentist and a dominant mother who would become a strong supporter of Batten's career as a pilot. In 1924 she was enrolled into a Ladies College in Remuera and studied ballet and piano. Though she was a gifted pianist, at the age of 18 she wanted to become a pilot. She was inspired in her ambitions by the Australian ace Charles Kingsford Smith, who took her for a flight in his Southern Cross. In 1929 she moved to England with her mother to join the London Aeroplane Club. She took her first solo flight in 1930 and gained private and commercial licenses by 1932, when she acquired a second-hand Gipsy Moth bi-plane.

In 1934 she flew solo from England to Australia in the Gipsy Moth after two failed attempts landed her prematurely in India and Italy. Her trip of 14 days and 22 hours beat the existing England-to-Australia record of English aviatrix Amy Johnson by 5 days. For this achievement and for subsequent record-breaking flights, she was awarded the Harmon Trophy three times from 1935 through to 1937. She also received an endorsement contract with Castrol oil. Batten wrote about her trip; Solo Flight was published by Jackson and O'Sullivan Ltd in 1934. Batten took a boat to New Zealand with the Gipsy Moth (which could not have flown across the Tasman Sea) and made a six-week aerial tour there before returning to England.

After her first Australia flight Batten was able to buy a Percival Gull Six G-ADPR monoplane. In 1935 she set a world record flying from England to Brazil in the Percival Gull, for which she was presented the Order of the Southern Cross.[1] In 1936 she set another world record with a solo flight from England to New Zealand. At her birthplace of Rotorua she was honored by local Maori, as she had been after the 1934 journey. She was given a chief’s feather cloak and given the title Hine-o-te-Rangi – "Daughter of the Skies". Batten was created Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1936, and she was also given the Cross of the French Legion of Honour that year.

In 1938, she was the first woman to be awarded the medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, aviation's highest honour. Throughout the 30s she was very social and made many friends with other aviators internationally, as she described in her autobiography.

World War II was the end of Batten's flying adventures. Her Percival Vega Gull was commissioned to active service but Batten was not permitted to fly it. During the war Batten was involved in campaigns giving lectures in England to raise money for guns and aeroplanes, but her flying days were over. After the war she retired from public life except for a few anniversary appearances. [2]

Batton became a recluse and lived in several places around the world with her mother until her mother's death in 1965. In 1977 she was guest of honour at the opening of the Aviation Pioneers Pavilion at Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand, after which she returned to her home in Spain.[3] She died alone in a hotel on Majorca, from complications from a dog bite.

Batton's autobiography, My Life, was published by George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. in 1938 and is now available in full online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Center, part of the Victoria University of Wellington Library. An extended version was printed under the title Alone in the Sky by N.Z. Technical books in 1979.

Because of her striking looks, her glamorous appearance at receptions (she always took a dress with her on her record-breaking flights), and her later reclusive ways, Batten became known as the "Greta Garbo of the skies". In October 2008 a musical Garbo of the Skies written by Paul Andersen-Gardiner and Rebekah Hornblow had its inaugural performance in Opunake by the Opunake Players at the Lakeside Playhouse. This was based on Ian Mackersey's biography.

Legacy

Houses in Macleans College and Westlake Girls High School are named after her, as is Batten (Blue) House at Orewa College and in the whanau system of Aorere College in South Auckland. A primary school in Mangere is named after her as are streets in Auckland, Christchurch, Mount Maunganui, Wellington and in her birthplace of Rotorua. The historic Jean Batten building on the Auckland street has been incorporated into the design of the new Bank of New Zealand head office, and the Auckland Airport International Terminal is named after her. The Percival Vega Gull G-ADPR in which she made the first ever solo trip from England to New Zealand in 1936 and many other record-breaking trips now hangs in the Jean Batten International Terminal.

A bronze sculpture of Batten is located in the main terminal of Rotorua Airport and a small park in the middle of the city is also named after her.

In September 2009, a Qantas 737-800, the first International config plane of its type and Qantas's 75th 737 was named after Jean Batten.[4]

Major flights

  • 1934 – England - Australia (women's record) 10,500 miles in 14 days 22 hours 30 minutes, breaking Amy Johnson's record by six days.
  • 1935 – Australia - England in 17 days 15 hours. First woman ever to make a return flight.
  • 1935 – England - Brazil: 5000 miles in 61 hours 15 minutes, setting world record for any type of aeroplane. Also fastest crossing South Atlantic Ocean, 13 1/4 hours, and first woman to make England - South America flight.
  • 1936 – England - New Zealand. World record for any type. 14,224 miles in 11 days 45 minutes total elapsed time, including 2 1/2 days in Sydney.

References

External links

Bibliography

  • Batten, Jean, Solo Flight, Jackson and O'Sullivan Ltd, 1934.
  • Batten, Jean, Alone In The Sky, N.Z. Technical books, 1979 (an extended version of her book My Life, originally published in 1938).
  • Batten Jean, My Life, 1938, George G. Harrap and Company Limited
  • Mackersey, Ian, Jean Batten: The Garbo of the Skies, Warner Books, 1999, 466pp, ISBN 0-7515-3019-0
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