In recent times, the work of the Air Transport Auxiliary has been highlighted in several TV documentaries. Their valuable work of delivering aircraft to the front line, either brand new from the factory, or back to service following damage repair, released combat trained front line pilots for duty. The story of these pilots, many of whom were women such as the amazing Lettice Curtis, is quite remarkable in today’s regulated, health and safety conscious age.
With training programs of weeks rather than the months or years of today’s military pilots, not only did these aircrew have to learn quickly, but they had to fly unarmed and in a wide range of weather conditions in order to get the job done. Additionally, they had to be able to fly virtually whatever aircraft they were presented with. The sheer diversity of the challenge confronting these pilots becomes apparent when you take a look through the Ferry Pilots Notes.
This publication was given to each Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. A ring bound file, to which additional types could be added, it had a dark blue hard cover for durability. Sized to fit into the flying overalls of a pilot, the publication could be quickly opened to the correct aircraft type and inserted with the important facts in view on the pilot’s knee while flying.
This publication is available to buy as an accurate recreation of the original document and is for sale online through the museum shop or in person from the museum. A casual look through the pages makes truly remarkable reading.
In alphabetical order, from Airacobra to York, the notes list all of the salient facts needed to perform a successful flight in the huge variety of Allied aircraft. Simply opening the notes and scrolling to the letter A gives some idea of the challenge facing the ATA pilot. Aircobra, Albermarle, Auster, Anson, Avenger, Argus, Albacore, Avro Tutor. A combination of American and British, fixed and retractable gear, land based and carrier based aircraft. And twenty five more letters of the alphabet remaining.
Other interesting notes can be found in the general overviews and advice dispensed to the pilots. For example:
“Recommended cruise figures are chosen by the engine manufacturer to represent the best ferry speed………… unless it happens that the particular installation is rough at the recommended RPM, in which case RPM should be increased or decreased until the engine runs smoothly.”
No mention of possibly landing and finding an engineer, the ATA pilots simply had to figure it out.
There are brief notes on handling American carburettors and injector engines covering just a single, small page. Similarly, the procedure for variable pitch propellors and how to control them. The accident procedure page is also concise and optimistic. Here’s a summary of part of the Accident Procedure for Pilots:
1. Note the time and position
2. Get someone to guard the aircraft
3. Find a telephone
4. Tell someone where you’ve landed / crashed
5. Arrange transport home
The Ferry Pilot Notes offers a unique insight into the mentality and overall attitude to wartime flying. Driven purely by the necessity and urgency of wartime, the bare minimum of regulations needed to get the job done were in place, with far, far more autonomy and decision making left to the individual.
If you have ever wondered what the procedure for stopping a Hercules engine was, or how to start, warm up and stop a Sabre engine, then this publication will give you, in concise form, the bare facts you need to do it.
Alternatively, you can scroll through the individual cards and remind yourself of some of the more obscure types of aircraft use by Allied Air Forces, including some you may have forgotten about entirely. Can you picture an Expediter, Henley or Sea Mew anyone?
The Ferry Pilots Notes can be purchased from the museum shop, or ordered online for delivery in most countries.