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Maureen Dunlop de Popp

Maureen Dunlop de Popp
Born: October 26th 1920, Quilmes, Argentina. Died: May 29th 2012 Age 91.

One of a pioneering group of women pilots who flew the latest 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.

Maureen 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 officer.
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.
Initially 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 ATA.

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.

Growing up 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 1969.
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.
In 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 bloodlines.
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.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 02 January 2021, 11:52