Heather Wood Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA)

Silloth Resident

Heather Wood was a well known resident in Silloth, who was a member of  the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) during WW2.

Click images below to enlarge.
Images above curtesy of Tim Barker Archives.

What was the ATA?

As Heather Wood’s Certificate above indicates, ferry pools were set up to ferry planes from one location to another, related to the ‘Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and for air transport tasks auxiliary to the War effort.’  Male and female civilian pilots attached to the ATA would arrive at a factory to pick up brand new planes and take them to a maintenance unit such as 22MU in Silloth. (Similar to other maintenance units, Silloth 22MU had been set up in an area thought to be as far away as possible from where enemy bombers were thought to reach.)

After the plane’s maintenance was completed, another civilian pilot was sent to Ferry Control to fly it to the front line Squadron, which could be anywhere in the UK.  If the plane got damaged in battle or needed overhauling, another civilian pilot would take it to a repair or maintenance unit, such as Silloth 22 MU, while another would deliver the serviceable plane to keep the squadron up to strength.

The basic principle of women in the ATA was achieved in 1939 through the diplomacy of Pauline Gower, Head of the Women’s Section. Women  pilots were initially restricted to non-combat types of work (trainers and transports), but they were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, including four-engined heavy bombers such as Lancasters.

ATA work was dangerous for men and women taking up the role of ferry pool pilots. Some were shot at by the enemy and also, occasionally, by their own side. However, weather was their biggest enemy. Silloth aerodrome was particularly risky because of its situation on the Solway as well as being so close to the Lake District Fells.

“People often marvel at the fact that the ferry pilots flew in the ever-changing British weather without radios or navigation aids, in the days before SatNav. Flight instruments showed how fast or high they were flying. However, because ATA pilots were required to stay within sight of the ground, they were never taught the art of flying instruments – flying blind” […] “Only when ATA started flying into Europe after D-Day in 1944 were its pilots given courses in how to use radios. Their call sign was ‘Ferdinand the Bull’.” (Hyams, Jacky, The Female View (2012).

The fascinating inside story of the WW2 British Air Transport Auxillary (A.T.A.) told in the videos below feature interviews with many of the surviving pilots. ITV West TV production from 2005.

Part 1 – “Episode 01 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This first episode tells of how British Airways director Gerard d’Erlanger came up with the idea of using civilian pilots to support the war effort by transporting mail, VIPs and injured soldiers, officially forming the ATA in September 1939.”

Part 2 “Episode 02 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This second episode reveals the methods by which these civilian pilots were trained to fly so many different types of aircraft, and how the Air Transport Auxiliary’s use of female pilots made it unique in wartime Britain, a policy of sexual equality that other employers took years to embrace.”

Part 3 – “Episode 03 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This third episode tells of how, sixty years on, members of the Air Transport Auxiliary reunited at RAF Lyneham to reminisce about absent friends and the World War Two flying missions that saw them risking their lives to ferry aircraft and supplies to Europe. They also discuss how female pilots found it hard to get work on commercial airlines after the conflict finished.”

Men and women who flew with the ATA are special because they did extraordinary things. “To us, in a world of regulation, licences and certificates, the idea of flying six different planes in one day is unbelievable, particularly when you consider that they [ATA ferry pilots] would be seeing some of those planes for the first time. Nowadays it just would not be allowed to happen” (Richard Poad, MBE in the Foreword to Hyams, J ‘The Female View’ (2012). Published by The History Press.)

 

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