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Page last updated at 13:18 GMT, Thursday, 30 September 2010 14:18 UK
Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition comes to Maidenhead
A group of ATA women pilots posing with a Spitfire at Hamble Airfield, Southampton
Women flew aircraft all over the UK

Women pilots who flew Spitfires from White Waltham during World War II are to be commemorated at Maidenhead Heritage Centre.

The centre has been awarded a £50,000 grant to set up a permanent exhibition and study centre commemorating the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

Among the 1200 civilian pilots recruited were 168 women who delivered RAF aircraft from factory to airfield.

These unsung heroes helped keep the RAF's front line airfields equipped.

Many pilots lived in Berkshire as the ATA headquarters were located at White Waltham Airfield.

Maidenhead Heritage Centre is located just two miles from the airfield.

The ATA pilots ferried 309,000 planes between factories to the RAF and RN airfields.

The pilots had to be capable of flying a full range of aircraft - 147 different types - from Tiger Moth trainers, through frontline Spitfires and Hurricanes to heavy bombers such as the Lancaster.

The women had to overcome male prejudice to take on the role, including having to fight to achieve equal pay with male colleagues for undertaking the hazardous job.

Aviation hero

Maidenhead Heritage Centre chairman Richard Poad MBE said: "These amazing civilian pilots flew planes that they would never have seen in their lives before.

"Sadly, 173 of them died in the ATA service, including the legendary Amy Johnson."

 Diana Barnato Walker climbing into a Spitfire
Pilot Diana Barnato Walker was one of the women who flew Spitfires

Aviation hero Amy Johnson had established records flying solo from Britain to Australia and South Africa before the war.

A collection of ATA documents, maps, photographs and operating manuals has been maintained by the Maidenhead Heritage Centre, along with artefacts such as leather flying jackets, sheepskin gloves and flying helmets.

The volunteer-run project will see this nationally important collection fully archived and conserved for future study.

Volunteers will also interview surviving ATA members and their families for posterity.

Part of the Maidenhead Heritage Centre will be converted to provide a dedicated study centre with permanent displays available to the public for the first time.

The Heritage Centre plans to open the new facility to the public in the summer of 2011.

To raise additional funds to create Grandma Flew Spitfires!, Maidenhead Heritage Centre has launched a public appeal, whose patrons include HRH Prince Michael of Kent and the Home Secretary Theresa May, MP for Maidenhead.

The progress of the project can be followed at ATA Museum.

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