Diana Barnato Walker (1918-2008)

First British Woman to Break the Sound Barrier

Diana Barnato Walker was born on 15th February 1918. Her family lived in Englefield Green near Egham. Her father was Woolf Barnato, racing driver and one of the original ‘Bentley Boys’ famous for driving Bentley sports cars to victory in the 1920s.

Diana had a natural aptitude for flying, training at Brooklands Flying Club, and at the age of 20, after only 6 hours of initial training, she took her first solo flight.

After a short period as a nurse in the Red Cross in 1940, she decided to apply for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) the following year. She underwent a lengthy and intensive training period and in 1942, began transporting low-powered single engine aircraft from factories to air fields.

Not content with this, she went on to receive further training and eventually flew powerful twin-engine aircraft, such as the Wellington Bomber. Diana often flew solo, and by the time the ATA was disbanded in 1945, she had flown 80 types of aircraft and delivered 260 Spitfires.

Diana continued to fly after the war and on 26th August 1963 she was the first British woman to break the sound barrier in an English Electric Lightning T4 to Mach 1.6 – a staggering 1,262 mph!

Diana is just one of the talented Surrey Women featured in Surrey Museums Month 2017. To find out more about the event and other celebrated Surrey Women click here.

Diana Barnato Walker (1944) (Photograph by MOD (RAF))

Extract courtesy of Egham Museum.

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