Amy Johnson obtained the funds for her first aircraft from her father, who would always be one of her strongest supporters, and Lord Wakefield. She purchased a second-hand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth G-AAAH and named it Jason after her father’s business trade mark.
Johnson achieved worldwide recognition when, in 1930, she became the first woman pilot to fly solo from England to Australia. Flying G-AAAH Jason, she left Croydon, Surrey, on 5 May and landed at Darwin, Northern Territory on 24 May 11,000 miles (18,000 km).
The aircraft is preserved in the Science Museum, London. She received the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE in George V‘s 1930 Birthday Honours in recognition of this achievement, and was also honoured with the No. 1 civil pilot’s licence under Australia’s 1921 Air Navigation Regulations.
Johnson next obtained de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth G-AAZV which she named Jason II. In July 1931, she and co-pilot Jack Humphreys became the first to fly from London to Moscow in one day, completing the 1,760 miles (2,830 km) journey in approximately 21 hours. From there, they continued across Siberia and on to Tokyo, setting a record time for Britain to Japan.
In 1932, Johnson married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who had proposed to her during a flight together some eight hours after they had first met. In July 1932, Johnson set a solo record for the flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa in Puss Moth G-ACAB, named Desert Cloud, breaking her new husband’s record.
Her next flights were with Mollison as a duo. In July 1933, they first flew G-ACCV, named “Seafarer,” a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon I nonstop from South Wales to Brooklyn, New York. Their aircraft ran out of fuel and crash-landed at Connecticut; both were injured. After recuperating, the pair were feted by New York society and received a ticker tape parade down Wall Street.
The Mollisons also flew, in record time, from Britain to India in 1934 in G-ACSP, named “Black Magic“, a de Havilland DH.88 Comet as part of the Britain to Australia MacRobertson Air Race. They were forced to retire from the race at Allahabad because of engine trouble.
In May 1936, Johnson made her last record-breaking flight, regaining her Britain to South Africa record in G-ADZO, a Percival Gull Six. The same year she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club.
In 1938, Johnson overturned her glider when landing after a display at Walsall Aerodrome in England, but was not seriously hurt. The same year, she divorced Mollison. Soon afterwards, she reverted to her maiden name.
In 1940, during the Second World War, Johnson joined the newly formed Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), whose job was to transport Royal Air Force aircraft around the country – and rose to First Officer. Her former husband also flew for the ATA throughout the war.
On 5 January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Prestwick via Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford, Johnson went off course in adverse weather conditions. Reportedly out of fuel, she bailed out as her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay.
A convoy of wartime vessels in the Thames Estuary spotted Johnson’s parachute coming down and saw her alive in the water, calling for help. Conditions were poor – there was a heavy sea and a strong tide, snow was falling and it was intensely cold. Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher, the Captain of HMS Haslemere, navigated his ship to attempt a rescue. The crew of the vessel threw ropes out to Johnson but she was unable to reach them and was lost under the ship. Fletcher dived in and swam out to this, rested on it for a few minutes then let go. When the lifeboat reached him he was unconscious and as a result of the intense cold he died in hospital days later. Johnson’s body was never recovered.
As a member of the ATA with no known grave, she is (under the name Amy V. Johnson) commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.