Images of the Hawker Hurricane model used can be seen here.
The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was a British World War II civilian organisation that ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between UK factories, assembly plants, transatlantic delivery points, Maintenance Units (MU), scrap yards, and active service squadrons and airfields—but not to aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed air ambulance work.
The original intended usage was to transport mail and medical supplies. However the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft. By 1 May 1940, they took over transporting all military aircraft from the factories to the Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941, the ATA took over all ferry jobs. This freed the much-needed combat pilot for combat duty. Lord Beaverbrook, (Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook), gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the ATA.
During the war, the service flew 415,000 hours and delivered over 308,000 aircraft of 130 types including Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, Mustangs, Lancasters, Halifaxes, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Barracudas, and Fortresses. The average aircraft strength of the ATA training schools was 78. Total of 133,247 hours were flown by school aircraft and 6,013 conversion courses were put through. The total flying hours of the Air Movement Flight was 17,059 of which 8,570 were on UK internal flights and 8,489 on overseas flights. 883 Tons of freight was carried and 3,430 passengers transported without casualty. Total taxi hours amounted to 179,325 excluding Air Movements.“Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront.”
The administration of the organisation fell to Gerard d'Erlanger, a director of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). He had suggested a similar organisation prior to the war in a letter dated 24 May 1938. In late August 1939, the ATA was placed under British Airways Ltd. for initial administration and finance. On 10 October 1939, Air Member for Supply and Organisation (AMSO) took over the control of the ATA. The first pilots were assigned to RAF Reserve Command and attached to RAF Flights to ferry trainers, fighters and bombers from factory and storage to Air Force Stations.
Late in 1939, it was decided that a third and entirely civilian ferry pool at White Waltham near Maidenhead in Berkshire should be set up. Operations of this pool began 15 February 1940. On 16 May 1940, RAF Maintenance Command through 41 Group, took control. Then on 22 July 1941, the ATA came under the control of the Ministry of Production (MAP). Although control shifted to these many departments, administration was always carried out by BOAC under Commander Gerard d’Erlanger CBE.
The organisation recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for reasons of age or fitness for either the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm (therefore humorously referred to as "Ancient and Tattered Airmen"), pilots from neutral countries and, notably, women pilots.
A unique feature of the ATA is that physical handicaps were ignored if the pilot could do the job. Thus there were one-armed, one-legged, short-sighted, and one-eyed pilots with the ATA. Representatives of 28 countries flew with the ATA.
In late 1939, Commander Pauline Gower MBE was given the task of organising the women's section of the ATA. There were 166 women pilots (one in eight of the entire service) who volunteered from Britain, the Commonwealth (Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), United States, the Netherlands, Poland, and one from Argentina, Maureen Dunlop. Fifteen lost their lives in the air, including the British pioneer aviatrix Amy Johnson. One of many notable achievements of the women is that they earned the same pay as men in equal rank as the men flying with the organisation starting in 1943. This was the first time that the British Government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work, within an organisation under its jurisdiction. (Note, at the same time, American woman flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASP, were earning as little as 65% of their male colleagues.) Although initially restricted to non-combat types (i.e. trainers and transports), women pilots were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and Fleet Air Arm including the four-engined bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats.
Although the first ATA pilots were introduced to military aircraft at the RAF’s Central Flying School (CFS), the ATA soon developed its own training programme. Pilots progressed from light, single-engined aircraft to more powerful and complicated aircraft in stages. They first qualified on one “class” of aircraft, then gained experience on that class by doing ferrying work of any and all aircraft in that class before returning to training to qualify on the next class of aircraft. As a result, pilots progressed based on their own capabilities, rather than on a rigid timetable. This not only ensured that as many pilots as possible advanced, but those that could not were still gainfully employed flying the aircraft types on which they had qualified. Once cleared to fly one class of aircraft, pilots could be asked to ferry any plane in that class even if they had never seen that type of aircraft before. To do so they had Ferry Pilot Notes, a two-ring book of small cards with the critical statistics and notations necessary to ferry each aircraft. A pilot cleared on more than one class, could be asked to fly an aircraft in any of the categories on which he or she was qualified; thus even a pilot cleared to fly four-engined bombers could be assigned to fly a single-engined trainer if scheduling made this the most efficient way to get the aircraft to its destination.
The ATA trained its pilots only to ferry planes, rather than to perfection on every type. For example aerobatics and blind flying were not taught and pilots were explicitly forbidden from doing either, even if capable of doing so. The objective of the ATA was to deliver aircraft safely, and that meant taking no unnecessary risks.
A detailed account of the training that ATA pilots experienced and a vivid view of the daily life of an ATA pilot may be found in "Intrepid Woman, Betty Lussier's Secret War, 1942-1945", Betty Lussier, 2010.