Gabrielle Patterson - Ladies of the ATA

Gabrielle Patterson

Born in London 1905, and was educated in many European cities including Paris, Berlin and Vienna. Gabrielle gained her aviator’s “A” certificate in 1931, and the same year competed in the ladies’ flying event at Reading, alongside other competitors including Amy Johnson, Pauline Gower, Dorothy Spicer and Fidelia Crossley. She had strong opinions on feminism, writing in 1938 on women flying instructors in the event of war.  She felt that women would have an advantage in this regard as the respect of the pupil would be enhanced as “her supposed greater difficulties in acquiring that mastery (of flying)” combined with “the instinctive desire of the male to impress the female”.  She did worry that there would be a shortage of women instructors however, as “women’s pilots hitherto have consisted only of those with large enough bank balances”.

By the late 1930’s she was a leading figure in women’s aviation and gained a lot of publicity, although she did not court it and shunned publicity. In the summer of 1939, Gabrielle had been a flying instructor for some years and was a leader of the National Women’s Air Reserve. When war broke out she applied to the Air Traffic Auxiliary having already mastered flying in nearly twenty types of aircraft, and was one of the “first eight”. She subsequently expanded this repertoire to include Hurricanes and Spitfires, Wellingtons and Mosquitoes. She was considered to be a “polished pilot whose capabilities are limited by her physique” (she was not tall, and suffered from a number of ailments throughout her time at the ATA).

After the war, Gabrielle was involved at the outset of the Women’s Junior Air Corps and served as its commandant from 1946 to 1950, writing the course work syllabus, and became the first woman to be appointed to the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators’ panel of examiners. Gabrielle also won a scholarship to the Sorbonne (University of Paris) in 1956 and in later years taught pilots of non-British nationality to express themselves over the radio-telephone.

She died of cancer in October 1968 at the age of 63, and her ashes were scattered from the air over White Waltham airfield, the home of the ATA.

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