Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
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A World War II Memory

Mary Ellis - Air Transport Auxiliary Pilot

A wonderful newspaper article in Britain’s The Mail on Sunday was brought to our attention by Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum charter member John Robinson. It is the story of Mary Ellis, a veteran of the World War II’s Air Transport Auxiliary, who celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this year. The Mail on Sunday relayed her story and a video of her taking control of a Spitfire aircraft, flying in formation with one she had flown in WWII, over West Sussex in October of 2016. The complete story can be seen at:

A comprehensive accounting of the Air Transport Auxiliary is available from Wikipedia from which the following excerpts are offered below.

The Air Transport Auxiliary was set up in the United Kingdom in February 1940 with the primary objective of providing working aircraft to the Royal Air Force. In doing so, the ATA ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between various destinations for deployment by the RAF and manufacturing, repair or scraping locations. The ATA also provided some air ambulance services and ferrying of service personnel from one place to another. The ATA worked out of 14 ferry pools dispersed throughout Britain. The organization also had an Air Movement Flight Unit and two training units. Personnel included 1,152 male pilots and 166 female pilots, 151 flight engineers, 19 radio officers, 27 cadets and 2786 ground staff. By 1943, the women’s pay was equal to that of the men.

In World War II, the Air Transport Auxiliary flew 415,000 hours and delivered 309,000 aircraft to various locations. These numbers include 147 types of aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, Lancasters, Halifaxes and Flying Fortresses. About 883 tons of freight was carried and 3,430 passengers were transported without any casualties. One hundred and seventy-four male and female pilots were killed flying for the ATA.

As a civilian organization under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the ATA relied on pilots who were not suitable for the Royal Air Force or Fleet Air Arm service because of age or physical fitness. Other pilots were recruited from 28 neutral countries.

Women from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, the Netherlands Argentina, Chile and Poland were accepted into the ATA. Fifteen women lost their lives while flying for the ATA. The women were initially restricted to trainers and transports but went on to fly all types of aircraft used by the RAF and Fleet Air Arm with the exception of the largest flying boats.

Although the ATA was a civilian organization, personnel wore uniforms and pilots were given ranks equivalent to RAF ranks. These were

              ATA Senior Commander – RAF Group Captain
              ATA Flight Captain – RAF Squadron Leader
              ATA First Officer – RAF Flight Lieutenant
              ATA Second Officer – RAF Flying Officer
              ATA Third Officer – RAF Pilot Officer

The great contributions of the men and women of the ATA, of which the release of eligible men to  service in the RAF and Fleet Air Arm was their biggest victory, surely helped to hasten the Allied victory of World War II.Wikipedia – Air Transport Auxiliary