16 Oct 2016

Flying high for Jean

From Sunday Morning, 9:40 am on 16 October 2016

On 16 October 1936 New Zealand aviator Jean Batten made history by becoming the first person to fly solo from England to New Zealand. Her flight took 11 days and 45 minutes.

Her feat paved the way for women in aviation for many years to come, and a number of New Zealand female pilots who have followed in her footsteps have also been pioneers in the industry.

Jean Batten on October 16th 1936

Jean Batten on October 16th 1936 Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library

Eighty years after Jean Batten completed the first ever direct flight from England to New Zealand, her legacy lives on for the members of the New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation (NZAWA).

NZAWA president Julie Bubb says Batten’s achievements as a pioneer, not just for women, but for all aviation, are highly significant and continue to be an inspiration for the organisation.

“Everyone in our organisation knows about Jean Batten’s achievements. She just inspires us always. She was our patroness for many years and in our organisation we perpetuate her name in so many ways.

“I’ve just been given a Jean Batten’s president’s shield and I also have the Trans-Tasman trophy – the Australian girls go in competitions to win that and that is engraved in memory of Jean. All of us hold her in high esteem.”

Impeccable planning and preparation went into the England-New Zealand flight but, as Julie explains, Batten was a master of navigation and was able to complete the journey with only a compass and a watch to guide her.

“The most remarkable thing was she had to have such a level of self-discipline to keep on track and to not be blown off course and another remarkable thing was her stamina because she spent so many hours in a very small space, cramped conditions, with lack of sleep and she was constantly having to pump fuel, so it would have been quite a mission.”

In an interview recorded on the day she landed in Auckland after her record-breaking flight, Batten was quick to dismiss questions about her gender.

“I don’t attribute any importance to the fact that I happen to be the first woman to cross the Tasman Sea because I really don’t think that matters at all.

Julie Bubb (in the white cap)

Julie Bubb (in the white cap) Photo: supplied

“I do however feel very pleased to have made the very fastest flight ever between Australia and New Zealand. My time for the journey being exactly nine and a half hours. And to have been able to make the first direct flight from England to New Zealand in ten days.”

While a gender pay gap and a lack of women in leadership roles continue to further discriminate women fliers, there has been significant progress for equality in the aviation industry, Julie says.

“While it’s not an even playing field now for women, I believe it’s really forging ahead. I know a lot of the training schools around New Zealand treat them exactly the same as their male colleagues, so I think there are lots of opportunities for young women going forward.”

Archive audio of Jean Batten was supplied by Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.