Pioneering female pilot who flew Spitfires during Second World War and became magazine cover girl dies aged 91
11:21 GMT, 18 June 2012
Maureen Dunlop de Popp, a female pilot who flew Spitfires, Lancasters and Hurricanes during the Second World War, has died aged 91.
Dunlop joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1942 and became one of a small group of female pilots based at White Waltham in Berkshire who were trained to fly 38 types of aircraft between factories and military airfields across the country.
Her sex meant she was not allowed to fly in combat but her duties were still not without danger.
Cover girl: This picture of pilot Maureen Dunlop leaving the cockpit of a plane she had just flown in 1944 featured on the cover of Picture Post magazine
She often had to fly in challenging weather conditions – which cost the lives of some of her experienced colleagues including Amy Johnson, who had become famous for setting world records for flying long-distances, but died in 1941 after baling out in cloud over the Thames estuary.
Once Dunlop had to make an emergency landing when flying a Spitfire as the cockpit canopy blew off after take off, while another time she had to land in a field after the engine of her Argus aircraft failed in the air.
Dunlop loved being behind the controls of a plane and while she clocked up more than 800 hours during her time with the ATA, she lamented the fact women were not allowed to fly them in combat. 'I thought it was the only fair thing. Why should only men be killed' she once said.
Fearless: Maureen clocked up more than 800 hours flying during the Second World War
As well as being an experienced pilot,
Dunlop became a cover girl sensation when she was pictured pushing her
hair out of her face as she left the cockpit of a Barracuda in 1944. The
shot featured on the front page of Picture Post magazine, proving women
could be fearless as well as glamorous – and integral to the war
Dunlop was born in Argentina in 1920 to Eric Chase Dunlop, an Australian farm
manager employed by a British company in Argentina, and Jessimin May Williams, an English woman, giving Dunlop dual nationality.
Dunlop regularly visited England, having her first flying lessons here at the age of 15, and was taught for a time at St Hilda's College, an English school at Hurlingham in Buenos Aires.
Despite the journey being dangerous, she returned to the UK with her sister via a ferry in the Forties because she was determined to help the war effort, following in the footsteps of her father who had served with the Royal Field Artillery in the
First World War.
Female pilots like Dunlop had to fight hard to prove themselves in a chauvinistic climate. In order to join the ATA, they needed a minimum of 500 hours' solo flying, whereas men could join with 250 hours.
They had to fly the fighter aircraft with limited training and were often looked down upon by the male RAF pilots. However, not all men saw the female pilots as inferior, as Sir Stafford Cripps arranged for the female members of the ATA to have the same pay as their male colleagues.
War effort: Maureen flew fighter planes including Spitfires, pictured, during her service for the ATA
Dunlop's achievements were recognised in 2003 when she was one of three
female ATA pilots awarded the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigator’s
Master Air Pilot Award.
After the war, Dunlop returned to Argentina where she continued to fly as an instructor and then a commercial pilot.
She married Serban Victor Poppin in 1955 after meeting him at a British Embassy function in Buenos Aires and they had a son and two daughters.
In 1973, they returned to England and lived in Norfolk breeding pure-blood Arab horses.
Her husband died in 2000 but she is survived by their son and one of their daughters.