by Logan Walker & Jess Clackum
During WWII, men and women pilots from the U.S. and other nations traveled to England to join British pilots as part of the British Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying planes for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The ATA was the first organization which utilized women to ferry military aircraft. In 1942, 22-year old Nancy Miller of Los Angeles was one of those women, recruited by legendary aviatrix Jackie Cochran. The ATA would later serve as the model for the WASP.
"I was born in L.A., near Western and Wilshire on Serrano Ave. Last time I saw the area it was nearly all apartments! (I) went to LA High School and Occidental College (for 2 years), and then graduated from UC California at Berkeley, where I learned to fly as a junior with the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at Oakland Airport, with a private license in May 1940. Gad! That IS a long time ago!!!
Guess I’m the last of the 24-27 American women- 24 were recruited, as I was, by Jackie Cochran and 3 went over on their own. The American women went from the USA to England in small groups, starting in March, 1942. We checked out on a AT-6 Harvard in Montreal and if all was OK, we went on to England. We weren’t kept in a group (or groups), as the WASPS were, but were posted to different “pools” (stations), and lived with British families.
All of us had different experiences. I was down near Southampton at #15 Hamble, which had three Spitfire factories nearby- so I got to ferry my favorite aircraft many times! And then I transferred to Prestwick, Scotland where we had diversity of twin-engine aircraft. I ended up with 35 different single-engine types, and 15 twins, a wonderful flight experience. Rather remarkable, but foreign to most, we had a progressive checkout system over time, so I had 9 different SE and TE checkouts of about 3-5 hours each, and then all the rest (41) were solo first time up! I had two 18-month contracts, and they let me play out (ferry!) until the end of my contract on July 1945, even though the European war was over.
It’s getting to be ancient history, but I do want the ATA mentioned, as they were the first to have women ferry for them. Of course, I hope they’re mentioned in any aviation books or movies, TV or whatever…It was different from the WASPS- we didn’t have to march or live in barracks, etc. Much has been made of the WASPs, and rightly so as they did a fine job, but we Americans went over before the WASPS started and returned a year after they were disbanded. And we were appreciated for our service…I don’t think the WASPs ever got the proper “thanks” for trying to do whatever they could (flying/ferrying) during WWII, even though they were recently acknowledged relative to their service a couple of years ago, and now can be buried at Arlington.
I wrote a book about my adventures, Contact! Britain! (by Nancy Miller Livingston Stratford), available through Amazon. It was a fun deal to do for my father, so it’s not too “fancy”, but it does give some of the atmosphere of the times, plus how we trained and ferried and my personal experiences.
All of us are proud to have served as best we could (flying)!"
After the war, Nancy Stratford continued to fly. In 1947, she earned her helicopter and seaplane ratings. She was a ground school instructor and director of training (among other things) with Livingston Air Service and Air Dusting in Oregon, which she owned and operated with her husband Arlo, an Alaska pioneer helicopter pilot. As the only woman helicopter pilot in Oregon at one time, she had quite an adventure in the air, with missions that included air shows, transporting passengers, flying photo missions, and participating in fighting wildfires. After moving to Alaska with her husband in 1960, Stratford once again found herself the only woman helicopter pilot in the state.
Nancy Stratford made history not only for her service with the ATA but as the second licensed woman helicopter pilot in the United States and fourth in the world. By the time she retired in 1978, she had flown over 100 different types of aircraft and amassed 8,500 hours in the air! One of the first members (#4) of the Whirly-Girls (receiving their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002), Stratford is also a member of the Twirly-Birds, Silver Wings and the 99's. In 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown awarded Stratford and other surviving ATA members the Air Transport Auxiliary Veterans Badge of Honour for their service. Now 97, she resides in Southern California.