James Allan Mollison MBE (19 April 1905 – 30 October 1959) was a Scottish pioneer aviator who set many records during the rapid development of aviation in the 1930s.
Born on 19 April 1905 in Glasgow, Scotland, he was educated at The Glasgow Academy. Mollison was attracted at an early age to flying. Obtaining his Royal Air Force (RAF) Short Service Commission at 18, he was the youngest officer in the service, and upon completion of training, was posted to Waziristan.
At the age of 22, Mollison became a flying instructor at Central Flying School (CFS), again setting the record for being the youngest in this role. Shortly after, he transferred to the RAF Reserve and devoted his time to civil aviation. In 1928–29, he served as an instructor with the South Australian Aero Club in Adelaide, leaving that position to become a pilot with Eyre Peninsular Airways and Australian National Airways.
Whilst gaining a reputation as a playboy, Mollison was a highly skilled pilot who, like many others, took to record breaking as a means of "making his name." In July–August 1931, Mollison set a record time of eight days, 19 hours for a flight from Australia to England, and in March 1932, a record for flying from England to South Africa in 4 days, 17 hours.
Mollison had flown commercially for Charles Kingsford Smith's ill-fated Australian National Airways. During one of his commercial flights, he met the equally famous aviator Amy Johnson, whom he proposed to only eight hours after meeting her, and while still in the air. Johnson accepted; they married on July 1932, and she went off to break her husband's England to South Africa record. They were dubbed The Flying Sweethearts by the press and public.
Mollison continued his record-breaking attempts and on 18 August 1932 was the first pilot to perform an East-to-West solo trans-Atlantic flight from Portmarnock in Ireland to Pennfield, New Brunswick, Canada. In February 1933 Mollison flew from England to Brazil in 3 days, 13 hours, using Africa as a stop-over continent, a record time and the first solo crossing. By then, he and his wife began to plan a record breaking flight across the world. On 22 July 1933, they took off from Pendine Sands in Wales on a non-stop flight to New York, but were forced to crash land in Bridgeport, Connecticut, just short of their target, after running out of fuel. He and his wife were both injured, and the plane broken apart by souvenir seekers.
In October 1934 the Mollisons took part in MacRobertson Air Race. Their de Havilland DH.88 Comet Black Magic led the competitors off the line and was leading at Baghdad, but they were forced to retire at Allahabad after having to use non-aviation fuel, which damaged their engines.
The Mollisons' marriage became strained; they were rivals for the same aviation records and Mollison was at times a heavy drinker. They were divorced in 1938. She resumed her maiden name.
Second World War
Both Amy Johnson and Mollison eventually served in the ATA Air Transport Auxiliary in the Second World War. Johnson was killed while ferrying an aircraft in 1941. A notable incident occurred when Mollison flew as a co-pilot with Diana Barnato Walker. Their Anson was intercepted and shot up by Luftwaffe fighters. Although the aircraft was hit, the 12 passengers and crew were unhurt. On landing, Jim's only concern was "how to get a cup of tea!"
In June 1941 Mollison and an ATA crew delivered Cunliffe-Owen OA-1 G-AFMB to Fort Lamy, Chad. The aircraft was fitted out as a personal transport for General De Gaulle. Jim Mollison was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services with the ATA.
Mollison later settled in London and ran a public house. He married Maria Clasina E Kamphuis on 26 September 1949 at the Maidenhead Register Office. His drinking was a problem. In 1953, the Civil Aviation Authority Medical Board revoked his pilot's licence. The couple separated but Maria bought the Carisbrooke Hotel in Surbiton for him – a temperance hotel. He died on 30 October 1959, aged 54.
Legacy of Jim Mollison
Weston Aerospace premises
Former runway of Stag Lane Aerodrome
Mollison Drive & Mollison Square
Former site of Beddington Aerodrome (see Croydon Airport)