Gerard d'Erlanger, founder & head of the British ATA

The Men Behind the Women: Meet Sir Gerard John Regis Leo d'Erlanger, founder and head of the British ATA. 

D'Erlanger became convinced that Great Britain urgently needed the help of its amateur pilots to wage a war he saw coming. He wrote to Air Ministry officials suggesting that the Royal Air Force recruit pilots who were ineligible for the RAF for one reason or another, such as being too old, color-blind, having a single arm or, in one case, a single eye.

D’Erlanger’s idea drew only lukewarm interest, but when Germany invaded Poland on September 1,1939, the plan was suddenly taken seriously. D’Erlanger was by then the director of British Airways, so the company was asked to oversee the initiative. Letters were sent to about 1,000 male pilots asking if they wanted to serve their country by ferrying airplanes. The first 30 men were picked that September for what became the Air Transport Auxiliary, or ATA (which d’Erlanger joked stood for Ancient and Tattered Airmen). 

But what was most unusual—even radical—was the decision two months later to satisfy the increasing demand for ferry services by including female pilots. It was the first time in British history that women were hired to fly military aircraft. ‪#‎PaulineGower‬ became head of the women's division, and‪#‎JackieCochran‬ (see our earlier posts) would bring her 25 American women who would later become the ‪#‎WASP‬ ‪#‎FF‬ ‪#‎WomenRVets2‬