took up flying, aged 19, as the only woman in her class at a small university
town in coastal Maine. She could hardly have known then that within
a year she would be a qualified instructor; nor that within three she
would be crossing the Atlantic in a tramp steamer as one of 24 American
women who came to Britain to ferry aircraft for the Air Transport Auxiliary.
Between 1942 and the end of the war she was to fly more than 75 different
types of aircraft from the factories to their operational bases across
Britain, crashing only once despite a dangerous but practical fondness
for aerobatics. As she told The Times in an interview last year: "I
always believed that aerobatics was a good way to familiarise yourself
with your aircraft."
Unlike the men of the wartime ATA, who amusedly regarded themselves
as being "Ancient o and Tattered Airmen", since they were
not fit for combat operations, the young women who ferried combat aircraft
to the squadrons rejoiced in the nickname "Atta-girls", and
they and glamour were indivisible. They even attracted the barbs of
the Nazi propaganda broadcaster William Joyce, "Lord Haw Haw",
who somewhat quaintly accused the ATA of training its women kind "to
fly vicious fighting planes which these unnatural and decadent women
will doubtless enjoy".
Though it has a routine sound about it, ferry work could be highly dangerous
for its pilots, involving as it did flying solo and doing their own
navigating in all weathers, and having to familiarise themselves with
completely different types of aircraft at short notice. There was also
the ever-present danger that an enemy aircraft intruding into UK airspace
might try to shoot them down, unarmed as they were.
Fourteen of about 130 women pilots of the ATA lost their lives during
the war, one of the fatal casualties being the celebrated aviatrix Amy
Johnson. Darling of the nation for her solo record-breaking feats of
the 1930s, she perished in the freezing waters of the Thames Estuary
after being forced to bale out from her Airspeed Oxford when it ran
out of fuel on a routine delivery flight in January 1941.
Among the British aircraft Wood-Kelly flew were the Spitfire, the Hurricane
and the twin-engine Mosquito; among American planes were the P40 Kittyhawk,
the P51 Mustang and the twin-boom, twin-engine P38 Lightning. Her favourites
were the Spitfire and Mosquito because, as she said: "they were
Ann Wood was born in 1918 in Philadelphia. She was educated there, and
at Namur in Belgium, where her mother, widowed early, took her children
for several years to make her dollars go farther. She subsequently returned
to the US and attended Melrose Academy, Philadelphia, and D'Youville
College, Buffalo, New York, where she took a degree in English literature.
Her mother encouraged her to learn to fly, and in 1941 she gained a
place on the (otherwise all-male) flight training programme at Bowdoin
College, where she went solo after only eight hours of flying. She then
became a flight instructor on the Bowdoin programme.
Meanwhile, the legendary Jacaueline Cochran had been trying to form
an American auxiliary of women flyers, but was receiving scant encouragement
from officialdom. So after the Pearl Harbor catastrophe of December
1941 she recruited 24 women to go to Britain to become part of the ATA
there. Unlike many of her fellow volunteers, Wood-Kelly stayed on friendly
terms with the flamboyant Cochran, dining at her Chelsea house and occasionally
accompanying her in a white Rolls-Royce to meetings at the Air Ministry.
In the course of her wartime flying, Wood-Kelly ferried more than 900
aircraft. She once experienced an engine failure while upside down at
the top of a loop in a Miles Magister, but only damaged a plane once,
turning over in a Spitfire after making a forced landing on a short
strip used to simulate an aircraft carrier. After VE-day one of her
missions was to fly champagne to officers' messes in Europe for victory
In recognition of her service to the UK, in 1945 she was awarded the
Kings Medal, which was awarded in August of that year to acknowledge
the contributions of foreign civilians to the British war efforts.
Tall, outspoken and an ardent Anglophile, she became known in aviation
circles and beyond as a breaker of glass ceilings. In 1946 she served
as first assistant to America's civil air attache in London before returning
to the US as public relations director to Northeast Airlines, based
in Boston. Thereafter she worked for Pan American World Airways where
from 1972 she was staff vice-president for international airport charges,
Pan Am's first female vice-president. As such, she was responsible for
a budget of more than $60 million.
For the last ten years of her life she traveled the US lecturing about
the work and legacy of the ATA. She was still flying her Piper Arrow
more than 60 years after qualifying as a pilot.
Her marriage, in 1948, to A. Jackson Kelly, an airline executive, was
dissolved. She is survived by a son.
Ann Wood-Kelly, aviator, was born on March 31,1918. She died on April,
14 2006 age 88