These RARE Photos Tell The Tale Of One Of The GREATEST Women To Ever Live!
By Sean HowardAmazing
eventFebruary 21, 2017
When you think of World War II pilots, you probably picture men. But it's not just men who have the most remarkable war stories, and that's where Mary Wilkins Ellis comes in. She was always destined to fly, and despite the countless skeptics she came across, Mary became Europe's first female air commandant. And because of her incredible accomplishments in the sky, many say her story is unforgettable.NEXT »
A True Hero
As one of the greatest female ferry pilots in the world, Mary Wilkins Ellis has been paving the way for female pilots everywhere since back in the 1940s. But sadly, between all that's happened in the world in more than five decades, her heroic story has since been nearly forgotten over all these years. Nevertheless, Mary's story is certainly one that's more than worthy of being told.
Growing Up On The Farm
Growing up with her farming family in Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, Mary's interest in flying was not what most people would expect of her. After all, she was just an average farmer's daughter, and at the time, a female pilot was something that was practically unheard of. But despite what wasn't seen as the norm for a young girl during the mid-1900s, Mary wanted to fly. And flying, pretty incredibly, is what she went on to do.
Destined To Fly
Despite the great odds stacked against her, flying was a passion of little Mary Wilkins Ellis' that she refused to just give up on. At the very young age of four, before she could even read or do simple math equations, Mary began to wonder why birds could reach the sky and why she could not. Though she wasn't aware of it at the time, it was this moment that kicked off what would be a career unlike any other.
Her Very First Lesson
In 1925 at the age of eight, Mary soared through the sky on her first flight in a de Havilland Moth after she begged her father when an air circus came to the area. She soon pursued her dream of becoming a pilot and took her first flying lesson during her teenage years. "I just loved the freedom flying lessons gave me, and was not at all frightened," Mary said. Nothing could stop her, not even the many skeptics who questioned her abilities.
Of course, at the time when Mary became a pilot and received her license to fly when she was just 16 years old, most people were doubtful that a woman could perform such a "manly" job that flying a plane was. "Where's the pilot?" she was often asked. But despite everyone's constant questioning and disbelief, Mary knew that the sky was literally the limit and that she was destined to do something big and unforgettable.
War On The Rise
When World War II broke out in 1939, Mary feared that her career might be in danger. But that was only until she heard a BBC appeal for women pilots to join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). The unit was staffed by civilian pilots, but regardless, their skills equated to those of true fighter pilot heroes in more ways than one. It goes without saying that this was an opportunity Mary could not pass up.
The Beginning Of An Amazing Career
After learning about this incredible opportunity for women in her field, Mary immediately applied to the ATA in October 1941, took a flying test, and was soon accepted into their ranks. There, she was tasked with flying new aircraft from factories to different airfields and squadrons. After she finished her training at Central Flying School in Hatfield where she flew Tiger Moths, Harts, and Hinds, she was moved to another base at White Waltham.
Britain's Blitz Years
Over the duration of her five-and-a-half-year-long journey as an ATA pilot during Britain's Blitz years, First Officer Mary Ellis became one of the greatest female ferry pilots of all time. And everyone was quick to realize her incredible skills. In fact, she was trained on an Avro Tutor, a two-seat British biplane that was a rugged trainer, and she was one of few who had the opportunity to do so.
Spitfires & Bombers
During World War II, Mary flew over 400 Spitfires and 76 other types of aircraft, including Hurricanes and Harvards. Her favorite to fly, however, was the smooth and powerful Supermarine Spitfire. "When I first flew one, the engineer at the factory helped me to strap in and said ‘Enjoy your flight, Miss. How many Spitfires have you flown?’ Oh, this is my first, I replied! He suddenly turned a very different color and jumped down off the wing!"
All Around The World
As a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary, Mary visited more than 200 airfields, flew more than 1,100 hours, and delivered a total of around 1,000 various planes. For the most part, she was alone in the aircraft during her flights and was equipped with just a compass and a stopwatch, using a map to make her way from point A to point B. But flying during the war had its downfalls, quite literally, and Mary nearly lost her life in the air.
Scary Close Calls
Mary's career as a pilot was far from easy - she had several close calls, including being shot at by British anti-aircraft artillery when they mistook her as an enemy. Another encounter with a Luftwaffe plane was so close that Mary was even able to see the surprised pilot's face when he saw that she was, indeed, a woman. After all, it was still uncommon for women to be pilots during this time.
Many Lost Their Lives
Unfortunately, for many, being an ATA pilot was often fatal. By the end of the war, a total of 174 ATA crew members had died, including 15 women. Mary's closest encounter with near-death happened in July 1943 when she was forced to make an emergency landing after an engine in her Fairchild Argus suddenly failed when she was flying mid-air. "I was going down," she said. "It was terrifying and I was flying solo and I had no radio."
Moving On To The Royal Air Force
The ATA closed down in November 1945 following the end of the Second World War, but that wasn't nearly the end of Mary's career. In fact, as the impressive pilot that she was, Mary was seconded to the Royal Air Force (RAF) at Sandown Airport to fly the new and very first Meteor fast jet, which ran out of fuel in about 35 minutes. While working there, she became Europe's first female air commandant.
Taking On A Different Mission
The service that Mary provided to the industry and country as a whole was so incredible that she was even awarded the Master Air Pilot certificate from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, an accomplishment any person would be truly proud of. A few years after her career with the RAF, Mary took on a different direction and began working as a personal pilot to a wealthy businessman.
Queen Of The Airport
By 1950, Mary was in charge of Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight and acted as managing director until 1970. But despite her accomplishments, Mary insisted that she wasn't anyone special. "I was born to be a pilot," she said. "But if ever you meet me, don’t call me ‘amazing’. I am just someone who has been lucky to live longer than most." As humble as she was in that moment, she inspired awe in everyone who knew or heard of her.
The Spitfire Girl
As the Spitfire was her favorite aircraft out of the many she flew during her career, Mary shared her incredible story with the world in a book titled A Spitfire Girl. "The day I stepped into a Spitfire was a complete joy, and it was the most natural thing in the world for me," she said. With an action-packed career that's lasted nearly a century, the book is filled with nothing but passionate words describing Mary's experiences.
Now 100 Years Old
If you're wondering where Mary is today, don't fret - she's still around, alive and well. Just as impressive as her career has been, Mary also blew folks away when she turned 100 years old on February 2, 2017. Many people at that age are hospitalized, bed-ridden, or generally incapable of doing much activity, but not Mary! She's still living her life to the fullest, doing the unthinkable.
Mary's remarkable birthday milestone had to be celebrated accordingly, which is why about 60 guests gathered for a surprise party in her honor at Sandown Airport where she was once seen as the queen of flying. Nowadays, Mary still keeps herself busy by attending commemorative functions when she's able to. And attending events on the ground isn't the only thing she does...
Not Done Just Yet
Don't think that just because Mary is now an entire century old that her pilot days are long gone. In fact, she celebrated her recent birthday with two other 100-year-old veterans when they were taken on a VIP flight in a Learjet. She may not have flown the aircraft alone like she used to, but we imagine Mary still felt the rush that she always did when she was in the air many years ago.
Just Too Modest
While it's easy to see that Mary is one of the most phenomenal women of all time, she doesn't want to hear it. "It was war, and like the men, we had a job to do." She survived a few frightening incidents while in the air, proved the countless men who thought that she couldn't handle the tasks of a pilot during war wrong, and is still alive to tell her tale. And for that, Mary Wilkins Ellis is certainly one of the greatest women to ever live.