British Air Transport Auxiliary
Jane Plant Spencer
Jane Plant (now Spencer) was a young "old timer" when she came to ATA in 1943. She had her first flight instruction at age eleven, began selling airplane photographs at twelve, worked in an airplane repair shop at thirteen, graduated from a technical high school and received a ground instructor's license at seventeen, commercial license and instructor's rating at eighteen - with no assistance from the burgeoning CPT program ("too young").
In Baltimore, she taught instructors and primary students in the CPT program while learning aerobatics, again privately. She was in the middle of an instrument course in Philadelphia when flying on the east coast was closed down in August of 1942.
Interviewed for the Women's Ferry Service by Nancy Love, she was rejected as under-age. Yet she was offered a post as an instructor for the WASP in Texas, 1000 hours being considered an above-average qualification. However, she felt worn-out as an instructor, especially as she had heard of Air Transport Auxiliary, where even women flew real airplanes. Getting there took some persuasion and a flight test in Montreal, and then a long wait for a sea passage from New York. Canadians Marion Orr and Violet Milstead joined at the same time. Both were experienced pilots.
ATA flight and ground instruction were all that she had been led to believe. So was ATA. You were trained to fly all types of aircraft within a given category, without checkout or another pilot on board - a new and entirely unique practice. You advanced from one category to another after further instruction, everyone as his own pace. By her 21st birthday, she had finished ground school and was about to begin actual ferrying of single-engined fighters.
In due course she was a first officer, rated to fly all single- and twin-engined aircraft in British service, and she had no reported accidents. Finally in November 1945, she was the last foreign pilot or woman to fly for ATA. The day after ATA closed down, two pilots had jobs, hers a war -weary Wellington; the other pilot, appropriately, was a WW I veteran.
Later she was a photographer and free-lance writer, a technical writer and human factors specialist in industry, and a student again (B.Sc. in the humanities from John Hopkins in 1965 and MLA in '68).
A bicentennial oral history course led to a realization that surprisingly there was no historical record of ATA in America, because the several hundred very diverse American men and women had joined as individuals and ATA was a foreign entity. They are not even official veterans in the United States. Enquiry thus led to action: the ATA History Project.
Only a genuine archival library has a permanent storage of records and access to them for interested parties, with its catalog circularized so that its holdings can readily be determined at other libraries. Of these places, probably the Hoover Institution is the most distinguished, so she approached them, and before 1980, Hoover agreed to keep ATA records as a named archive.
Being the ATA History Project, she collected material, as time and funds allowed, with some financial encouragement provided by Ida van Zanten, an ATA Dutch member and a close friend. The archive is quite large, with primary and secondary materials, and still grows as members send logbooks, letters, and the like to Hoover in Stanford, California - there in Stanford, ATA lives stills!
Mrs. Spencer is now a semi-retired antiques dealer and is a fair, if
reluctant, Chinese cook. For many years, she and her husband have collected
classical vocal recordings, largely those of the earlier periods. They
live in Baltimore, Maryland.
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