New Zealand’s Finest Pioneering Lady Pilots

One of New Zealand’s finest Pioneering Lady pilots. Born Jane Gardner Batten on 15th, September 1909 at Rotorua, New Zealand. She was more commonly known as Jean. Her first introduction to flying was in 1929 when the famous Charles Kingsford-Smith took her for a flight in his plane ‘THE SOUTHERN CROSS’. Kingsford-Smith was an Australian pilot who, in 1928, made the first trans-pacific flight from America to Australia.

Jean Batten had only one ambition after her first flight and that was to become a pilot. Her father did not approve but in 1930 she persuaded her mother to accompany her to England. They travelled to London where she joined the famous London Aero Club in Stag Lane. Learning to fly did not come easily and she needed all her strong will to make her first solo flight in 1930.In one incident she crashed having overshot the runway and hit a fence while flying solo.

Her confidence suffered but she persisted in her desire to become a pilot and obtained her Commercial Licence in 1932. Almost immediately she began to plan a flight from England to Australia. After two failed attempts, due more to the limitations of her second hand plane than her ability, her third attempt, in May 1934, was successful. She broke Amy Johnson’s record by four days. In 1935 she flew Australia to England to become the first woman pilot to do the round trip. In England she purchased a Percival Vega Gull and then flew from England to Brazil beating James Mollison’s record and becoming the first woman pilot to fly England to South America. On this flight she broke the world record for any type of plane covering the 5000 miles in 61 hours 45 minutes and her 13 hours 15 minutes was the fastest crossing of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Her greatest flight came in 1936 when she achieved her ambition to fly England to New Zealand. Leaving Lympne, an airfield in the south east of England on 5th October she arrived in Auckland on 16th. On the way she became the first person to fly solo direct England – New Zealand, set a new England -Australia record of 5days 21hours and set the world record for a flight Australia – New Zealand. In 1937 Jean Batten continued her record breaking by flying Australia-England in 5 days 18 hours 15minutes. She was the first person to hold the England – Australia, Australia – England records at the same time. Jean Batten received many honours including the Freedom of the City of London but could not get a flying job in the second world war. During the war she was involved in money raising activities for the war effort in England. Once the war was over Jean became a recluse shunning all publicity. She lived in different places with her mother until her mother died in 1965.

Jean made occasional appearances for special occasions and visited New Zealand in 1970. She finally moved to Majorca in 1982 where she died a few weeks later. Jean Batten is honoured in New Zealand where the Percival Vega Gull G-ADPR, which she flew on her record breaking flight from England to New Zealand, is on display at Auckland International Airport. Acknowledgement to Auckland International Airport, Shuttleworth Trust UK & Wikipedia.

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