Jean Gardner Batten

   in 1930

  b. 15 September 1909 in Rotorua, New Zealand, a "shy, determined girl".

"By the time I was nineteen I knew my future must be in flying." Studied music from a young age but, having passed the Royal Academy of Music Finals, she sold her beloved piano to get to England and pay for flying lessons. 

One of the most spectacularly successful aviators of the early 30s; after her solo flight from England to Australia in 1934 (at the third time of trying) the New Zealand Govermnment awarded her £500 in recognition of her feat. She was in Melbourne a few months later to greet Scott and Campbell Black as winners of the MacRobertson Race, and left Sydney the following April to fly back to England, but didn't quite beat her record.

In November 1935, came her real breakthrough: she flew to Brazil and beat the South Atlantic crossing record, taking 13 hrs 15min in her Percival Gull.

This time, she was awarded:

  • the Order of the Southern Cross (by the Brazilians);
  • the Gold Medal of the French Academy of Sports;
  • the Brittania Trophy (by the Royal Aero Club);
  • the C.B.E. for 'general services to aviation';
  • the Legion d'Honneur (the French seemed to like her, for some reason);
  • the Johnson Memorial Prize (from the Guild of Airline Pilots and Navigators), and
  • she was guest of honour in Paris at the Aero Club de France.

In October 1936, having attended literally dozens of receptions and award-giving ceremonies, she set off once more, this time to fly to New Zealand in her Percival Gull. On the way, she beat Harry Broadbent's record solo time to Australia, despite a puncture in the tail tyre which a helpful aerodrome official repaired by stuffing it with face sponges.

Just as Scott and Guthrie were returning rather sheepishly from the miserable Schlesinger Race to Cape Town, Jean was getting ready to fly from Australia to New Zealand. She arrived there on October 17th, met by large and enthusiastic crowds; the first woman to cross the Tasman Sea, the first direct flight from England to New Zealand.

On the last day of 1936, however, Jean's South Atlantic record was beaten by another woman - Mme Maryse Bastié.

In 1937, Jean again won the Brittania Trophy, the Harmon Trophy, and the Segrave Trophy for her 1936 flight. In October she set off for England again; at one stage, she was heading west, trying to beat Harry Broadbent's record, as Harry Broadbent was heading east, trying to break her record. She won; Jean beat Harry's record, while he had to give up at Basra. "I confess I am fed up", he said...

Jean picked up yet more awards; the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club; the Gold Medal of the F.A.I. (no less); summoned to Buckingham Palace to meet the King and Queen of the Belgians (exciting); immortalised in Madame Taussaud waxworks (until they melted her down, at least), another round of receptions as guest of honour...

But  her brief time in the spotlight was coming to an end. Harry Broadbent took back his Australia-England record; Arthur Clouston and Victor Ricketts more than halved her England-New Zealand record time in 1938. She still attended dinners and receptions in her honour; she wrote her autobiography (called, rather disappointingly, 'My Life'), but she made no more record attempts. Even so, her remaining record, solo to Australia, stood for over 40 years.

In WWII she toured the country as part of the 'Wings for Victory' campaign, giving dozens of lectures anywhere between Manchester and Penzance.

Her Percival Gull, G-ADPR 'Jean' was presented to the Shuttleworth Trust on 26 April 1961, having been requisitioned by the RAF in WWII and then returned to Hunting Aircraft. However, by 1969 it needed major repairs and was grounded until 1978. Jean herself offered to come back from Tenerife to help: "I used to be quite good at stitching canvas on wings". It was sold in the early 90s (when Shuttleworth was strapped for cash) and is now on display at Aukland Airport:

In 1980 she and Edgar Percival were made liverymen of the Guild of Airline Pilots and Navigators, and she then travelled to Hull to open the 'Silver Wings' exhibition, in honour of Amy Johnson.

Jean Batten owned:

a 1929 DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-AALG, which she flew to New Zealand in 1933;

a 1929 DH.60M Moth, G-AARB, in which she broke the England-Australia record in 1934, and was later owned by Gabrielle Patterson, R Gordon and BK Lyall (simultaneously, that is), and later,

a 1933 DH.60G III Moth Major, G-ACKF.

She died in 1982 in Majorca.

 

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