Christened Alys Helen Mary Parsons, but always known as 'Joan', and sometimes spelt her first name as 'Ailiss'
LRAM is 'Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music', which is a licence to teach music.
5ft 7in tall, green eyes
Father: Rev. Randolph Cecil Parsons (d. 1941), Mother: Florence Emily [Ashton] (d. 1946)
Her elder brother, John Cecil Lawrence Parsons, b. 1905 in Bournemouth, also had a pilot's licence:
prev: 'Domestic At Home'; piano teacher
She advertised in the Leamington Spa Courier, 8 July 1930: "MISS JOAN PARSONS, L.R.A.M. (PIANISTE). Pupil of Mr. Evlyn Howard-Jones. Is open to Public and Private Engagement and visits Pupils. Address; 19, Avenue Road, Leamington Spa."
Having gained her Royal Aero Club Certificate in 1933, she was "thwarted in her ambition to follow a career as a commercial air pilot" as, when she had put in the necessary 200 hours solo and took the examination. she was not passed. She later said that, on insisting upon an explanation, she was told that 'although her flying was up to the required standard, her health was the obstacle".
Nothing daunted. she took up "an intensive course of physical culture, and eventually improved her health sufficiently to be able to pass the test. But then, having temporarily relinquished her solo flying, she discovered, to her great disappointment, that she was unable to fulfill the condition of the requisite number of hours in the air."
She then worked for a while at Hayling Island aerodrome.
In 1938, she used a legacy "from an elderly relative" to buy G-ADNL, a Miles M.5 Sparrowhawk, first registered 12 Aug 1935 to Phillips & Powis Aircraft Ltd.
G-ADNL in 1938
It had competed in the King's Cup in 1935 (flown by Frederick Miles himself), coming 11th/29, 1936 (flown by Patrick Maxwell, an Instructor at the Phillips and Powis Civil Training School), coming 9th/26, and 1937, (flown by Wing-Cmdr Frederick William Stent, who died 28 Jun 1938 in the crash of the Miles M.11C G-AEYI), coming 7th/27.
G-ADNL in 1935
In May 1938, she started a "lone, and almost unprepared" flight to Cape Town and back. It was her first flight outside England or Scotland.
She left Lympne, without telling anyone except her parents, on 7 May 1938.
Her father said he had absolute faith in his daughter. "I am sure she will accomplish her objective," he said. " She is not out to break records. but to gain experience. She is full of the spirit of adventure. Flying is in her blood."
Major J. E. Bonniksen, of the Leamington, Warwick and District Aero Club, said Miss Parsons, who was taught to fly by Tommy Rose, deserved real encouragement. "She is made of the right stuff," he said.
Things went smoothly to begin with: "... in 75 minutes I arrived at Le Bourget. I cannot describe the thrill I felt as I zoomed over the Channel. 1 thought of Bleriot and all the pioneers of flight who had opened up the pathways of the air — and I felt ashamed when I realised how insignificant I really was." ... " After undergoing the usual formalities at Le Bourget, I flew towards St. Etienne and arrived there in a couple of hours. It was raining and I had to spend the night there. Next morning I went on to Marseilles, and 40 minutes later I was at Cannes."
Then the first hitch: "In Cannes I learned that it was impossible to fly over Rome because of Hitler's visit. That was that! I had to spend two days at Cannes. Eventually I left for Rome at three o'clock in the morning arriving five hours later. I had no time to lose, so immediately after the customs formalities I took to the air again and at 11 a.m. I was in Athens. What scenery I saw!"
"I continued on my way some minutes after my arrival, and at 2.45 p.m. I landed at Amscat, Lybya. Having a flat tyre, I had five hours to wait. At last I got going again, and landed the same day at Dekheila. I spent the night at :Alexandria before starting off again the next morning for Almaza."
[What she failed to mention is that a) she had to make a forced landing on 19 May, due to shortage of petrol, at an aerodrome at Khalkis, (which she described as being "all ridges") some distance short of Athens, and b) she had only two hours of daylight to fly from Amscat in Libya to Alexandria.]
She then spent a few days sight-seeing in Cairo.
After that, frankly, the catalogue of mishaps continued ...
She made another forced landing, on 24 May, at Victoria West, running into a barbed wire fence which wrapped itself round the propeller and damaged the fuselage. The local garage mechanics had never worked on an aeroplane before, but eventually fixed it in five days.
However, she finally reached Capetown, and stayed there until 1 July when she started back, "following the old Imperial Airways route ... she expects to take 8 days. She hopes to reach Broken Hill, Rhodesia, tomorrow"
She left Mpike, in Northern Rhodesia, on 4 July for Mbeya, in Tanganyika Territory.
By the 6th July, the newspapers reported "NATIVES SEARCH FOR MISSING LEAMINGTON WOMAN - Nothing heard of her since Monday - Concern for safety of former music mistress"
... until ...
9 July 1938: "BRITISH AIRWOMAN STILL STRANDED. Motor Boat Has Not Yet Reached Her. Dar es Salaam. Tanganyika, Friday.
Miss Joan Parsons, the Leamington airwoman. who was found by natives yesterday after she had been missing for three days, is still stranded in the bush near the Rufijii River, some 200 miles north of Mbeya, Tanganyika. Miss Parsons, who came down while on a flight from Capetown to London, is believed to be unhurt, though her plane was wrecked [sic]. The District Officer for Kiberege (Mr. Theodore Pike), well known Irish Rugby international, who has gone to her rescue by motor boat up the Rufiji, has not yet reached her.
An official Government communique issued here to-night says: There has been no further news of Miss Parsons, but this is not surprising as the District Officer has not yet been able reach the position where her aeroplane is reported to have crashed.” An R.A.F. machine left Mbeya to look for her this morning, but visibility was very bad because of cloud and the plane returned to Mbeya."
Her father said "We were getting rather frightened. It was such a shock to hear that Joan was missing and then to hear nothing further"
Her mother added "She will be ordered home. She will not be allowed to go on more flights of this nature"
[Good luck with that...]
By the 12 July, more of the story emerged: "Plane Runway Cut in Bush for Air-Girl. A solitary native road worker who witnessed the landing in the bush of Miss Joan Parsons, the Leamington airwoman, ran 30 miles to inform the district officer, Mr. Theodore Pike. He set off at once by moonlight for the Rufiji River in a motor boat, and is now assisting to cut a runway through the long grass where the plane landed. Miss Parsons may take off for Iringa, 80 miles away. She was given native foods, tea and sugar by Christian natives after landing. She sent no SOS, but merely asked for petrol and oil."
She arrived back at Nairobi on the 15 July and was hoping to leave for the UK the same day, but the "Authorities" insisted that she be escorted over the Sudan, and she had to wait for some RAF machines which were flying to Egypt.
She landed back in Lympne on 8 August, then reached home in Leamington Spa on 11 August 1938
Despite the plans which had been made to give her a triumphal return home, bad weather forced a delay to her final leg from Reading, so the civic reception waited for hours, eventually presented the bouquet to her brother and then went home.
Home at last, with Maj. Bonniksen and H C Everitt, of the Leamington Spa and Warwick Aero Club
Afterwards, she said her chief anxiety was "to save sufficient money to make a flight to India"
She had other plans, too:
2 Sep 1939 - "Miss Parsons is as keen as ever on aviation, and she recently purchased an Airspeed Courier six-seater machine which was used by Sir Alan Cobham on his India flight. The machine is being refitted by the makers, and Miss Parsons will, in all probability, use it for passenger work."
She bought G-ABXN, a 1932 Airspeed AS.5 Courier formerly owned by North Eastern Airways Ltd, based at Croydon:
However, Britain's Declaration of War the very next day put a stop to all that; the aircraft was requisitioned in June 1940 and only lasted until September, when it was scrapped.
Contract Terminated by ATA after 1 month]
"Leamington's Airwoman of African Fame"
"AIRWOMAN FINED FOR QUITTING JOB
Complaint About Workmate "Exaggerated"
Joan Parsons, who made a name for herself 1938 by flying solo to the Cape, was fined £5 to-day at Leamington, Warwickshlre, for falling to comply with a Ministry of National Service direction to work in an aircraft factory. Mr. W. A. Coleman, prosecuting, said that after being at a bench for two days Miss Parsons wrote to the firm complaining that she had been molested by a labourer, who repeatedly jabbed her under the arm. This so played on her nerves that she could not continue, and she left, declining to return for fear of further aggression.
''Of African Fame"
The letter was signed, "Joan Parsons, Leamington's airwoman of African fame." The complaint was grossly exaggerated, said Mr. Coleman. The labourer was a reputable workman, who thought he was encouraging the defendant by a playful act. Gilbert Stackhouse, shop foreman, said the labourer just touched Miss Parsons on the shoulder and said: "It won't be long now." 'I knew what he meant, but she didn't." added witness. "I told her that the man was trying to keep her happy, and instructed him not to go anywhere near her again."
The "Rough Man"
In evidence Miss Parsons said her father was a clergyman. The "rough man" who irritated her wanted to tickle other girl employees. The man leered in her face and was very objectionable. She kept away from the factory because she feared an act of revenge. Mr. Coleman: But surely you have had some experience of the world and meeting people? Miss Parsons: Yes. I have been treated very well abroad, and natives in territories on which I have had forced landings in Africa have looked on me as a goddess”.
Mr. Overall, defending, said it was not everybody who reacted favourably to being jabbed in the ribs every two or three minutes." - The Yorkshire Post, 8 November 1943
d 20 Sep 1989 - Weston Super Mare, Somerset, leaving £118,000
[Her Sparrowhawk G-ADNL was later converted into the sole Miles M.77 Sparrowjet:
... and on 13 July 1957, it won the King's Cup with a maximum speed of 228 mph.