Engineer of the Week No.123: Dorothy Norman Pearse (née Spicer)
(31 July 1908 - 23 December 1946)
In the week of her tragic death 73 years ago, we remember aeronautical engineer, Dorothy Spicer.
Dorothy Spicer was an aviator and aeronautical engineer. From a privileged background she had a good education in Belgium and at University College London. As soon as she ‘came of age’ (21), she started her flying training at the London Aeroplane Club, Stag Lane. She quickly got her A licence as a private pilot and soon after obtained her B and C licences, allowing her to fly as a commercial pilot, completing the ‘set’ with the D licence (qualifying to inspect and pass as airworthy both engines and planes) in 1935, the first woman to do so. These qualified her at all levels then available, as a ground engineer as well as pilot. During her first flying lessons she met Pauline Gower with whom she would form a lifelong friendship as well as business partnership. They joined the, then popular, charity air circus display circuit, initially he Crimson Fleet air circus and later the British Hospitals' Air Pageants. Dorothy became something of a celebrity and undertook many speaking engagements relating to her flying expertise. For a couple of years she and Gower ran an air taxi business but it was ultimately not very successful and ceased in 1938, the same year in which she married and also went to work for the Air Registration Board. In 1939 her daughter, Patricia, was born and the following year Dorothy joined her husband at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. Her work was as an air observer and research assistant, and her name is on two reports: one on tests of de-icing measures and another on a deflector plate to prevent sand entering the engines of the Hurricane plane. After the war Dorothy and her husband went to Rio de Janeiro where he had got a job with British Aviation Services Ltd. In December 1946 both of them were killed when the plane, in which they were passengers, crashed into a mountain on approach to Rio de Janeiro.
Dorothy had been an active member of the Women’s Engineering Society and its aviation section from 1931 and contributed articles to The Woman Engineer including "Selection and Treatment of Steels for Aero-Engines", in 1937. Her death was much mourned, coming as it did so close to the death (in childbirth) of her friend Pauline Gower. The Royal Aircraft Establishment operated a Dorothy Spicer Award for several years after her death.