When you open Google today, in all likelihood you’ll find a charming woman smiling at you. And her smile is not the first thing she is popular for. Today, September 15, marks the birthday of Jean Batten, a New Zealand aviator. Google doodle is celebrating Batten’s spirit of valiance today. In the 1930s, after her two attempts to fly from England to Australia failed, Batten decided to not give up and made a record-breaking journey in 1934. Born in Rotorua, Batten, soon became popular for the numerous record-breaking flights she made across the world.
Though a gifted pianist, Batten (born as Jane), at the age of 18, decided to become a pilot after Charles Kingford Smith — popular Australian pilot, took her for a trip on his Southern Cross plane. In 1929, Batten moved to England with her mother to join the London Aeroplane Club and took her solo flight soon, in the year 1930.
In May 1934, Batten successfully flew a solo trip of 14 days and 22 hours from England to Australia in the Gipsy Moth, thus beating the England-to-Australia record of English aviator Amy Johnson by over four days. She was awarded the Harmon Trophy three times, for this achievement and for subsequent such record-breaking flights.
She was awarded the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale medal in 1938. This is aviation’s highest honour and Batten became the first woman to receive the medal.
She came to be known as the ‘Greta Garbo of the skies’ for her striking looks, glamorous social appearances, and reclusiveness following her mother’s death. Her autobiography was published in 1938 by George G. Harrap, an extended version of which was printed by N.Z books under the title Alone in the Sky in 1979.
In October 2008 a musical Garbo of the Skies written by Paul Andersen-Gardiner and Rebekah Hornblow had its inaugural performance in Opunake by the Opunake Players at the Lakeside Playhouse. It was based on Ian Mackersey’s biography — Jean Batten – The Garbo of the skies.
Her never-say-no spirit lead her to winning many feats in her life, in spite of meeting with back to back failures when she started off to pursue her dream of flying.