From Sydney Morning Herald: Pioneer pilot opened skies for women
Maureen Dunlop de Popp was one of a pioneering group of women pilots who
flew the latest fighter and bomber aircraft with the wartime Air
Transport Auxiliary (ATA). She achieved national fame as a cover girl
when a Picture Post photographer captured her alighting from a Barracuda aircraft.
Dunlop’s arrival in England from her home in Argentina coincided with a
huge increase in aircraft production which led to an urgent need to
expand the almost exclusively male ATA – irreverently dubbed ‘‘Ancient
and Tired Airmen’’. Already a qualified pilot, she joined in April 1942,
one of a small pool of women ATA pilots, and rose to be a first
It was the task of the ATA pilots to deliver aircraft from
factories and maintenance units to front line squadrons. Only during
early-morning briefing did pilots discover what type of aircraft they
would be flying and to which airfield they would go. The organisation
had its own airborne taxi service, piloted by fellow ATA pilots, to
deliver or collect those detailed to ferry an aircraft.
Maureen Dunlop flew with No 6 Ferry Pool at Ratcliffe near Leicester,
but later moved to Hamble near Southampton, which was an all-female
pool. It was there that she delivered many Spitfires to squadrons. On
one occasion, just after she had taken off, the cockpit canopy blew off –
she made a successful landing. On another, the engine of her Argus
aircraft failed and she was forced to land in a field where she
discovered that a piston had shattered.
With all ATA pilots flying
the same aircraft and facing the same risks, Sir Stafford Cripps
arranged that the female pilots should receive equal pay with their male
colleagues and this small group of women rightly considered themselves
as pioneers of sex equality. Many, including Maureen Dunlop, wished that
they could have flown in combat, but this was considered a step too far
and was forbidden. “I thought it was the only fair thing,” she
remarked. “Why should only men be killed?”
She was one of 164 female
pilots and, during her three years with the ATA, she flew 38 different
types of aircraft, among them the Spitfire, Mustang, Typhoon and the
Wellington bomber. However, when asked which her favourite was, she
immediately responded: ‘‘The Mosquito’’.
The ATA had been founded in
September 1939 by Gerard d’Erlanger, an air-minded merchant banker and
director of British Airways. But, with the end of the war, it was
disbanded overnight. Its 600 pilots had delivered 308,567 aircraft and
many felt that they were ‘‘The Forgotten Pilots’’. Maureen Dunlop was
one of the few female pilots to secure a flying job when she left the
The second daughter of an Australian who managed 250,000
hectares of sheep farms in Patagonia, Argentina, Maureen Adel Chase
Dunlop was born on October 26 1920 in Quilmes, near Buenos Aires. She
held dual British and Argentine nationalities and, though she was
educated at an English school in Buenos Aires for a short time, she
received most of her education from a governess.
surrounded by animals, she became an expert horsewoman and would often
gallop alongside trains and wave to their drivers as they crossed the
vast spaces of Patagonia.
During a holiday in England in 1936 she
took flying lessons and then, when she returned to Argentina, backdated
her year of birth in order that she could legally continue her flight
training. During the First World War, her father had travelled to
England to join the Army, and with the outbreak of the Second, Maureen
saw no reason why she should not follow his example. She travelled to
England with her sister, who would work for the BBC.
After the war,
Maureen Dunlop qualified as a flying instructor at RAF Luton before
returning to Argentina, where she worked as a commercial pilot. She
instructed and flew for the Argentine Air Force, as well as having a
partnership in an air taxi company, continuing to fly actively until
Her other great love was horses and she was fascinated by Arab
ponies. After the war, she bought her first Arab and later built up a
large breeding operation known as Milla Lauquen Stud.
In 1955 Maureen
met and married Serban Popp, a retired Romanian diplomat, and in 1973
they travelled to England where they bought a farm near Norwich. She
soon discovered that her Second World War driving licence had expired.
Although her commercial pilot’s licence was still valid, she needed to
resit her British driving test.
She surprised her children by taking
five attempts to persuade the Norwich examiner that she was fit and able
to drive on British roads. They were surprised she passed so soon.
England the stud grew to more than 50 horses. She worked tirelessly
with her animals, carrying out physical work that men much younger than
her found exhausting. She built up an outstanding knowledge of Arabian
In 2003 Maureen Dunlop de Popp was one of three female
ATA pilots to receive the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigator’s Master
Air Pilot Award.
Her husband died in 2000 and she is survived by their son and daughter, a second daughter having predeceased her.