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Nancy Bird Walton AO OBE

1915 – 2009

Nancy Bird Walton AO OBE (b. 1915) was a pioneering pilot. Determined from her early girlhood to fly, Bird worked in her father's general store to save up for helmet, goggles and leathers. She began flying lessons with Charles Kingsford Smith in 1933, and obtained her pilot's licence in 1935. That year she not only organised the first Ladies' Flying Tour of Australia, but became the first female pilot in the Commonwealth to carry passengers and the first Australian woman to work commercially in aviation when she was appointed pilot for the Far West Children's Health Scheme. After four years in north-west NSW operating the Aerial Ambulance and the flying Baby Clinic Service, in the late 1930s she operated the Charter Air Service in Cunnamulla, Qld. She won the Ladies' Trophy in the Brisbane to Adelaide Centenary Air Race in 1936, flying the fastest of all competitors on the Melbourne to Adelaide leg. Over 1938-9 she flew 43 00 miles around the world studying the development of the aviation industry and produced the exhibition 'Wing the World Over' in Melbourne and Sydney. She married in 1939, and during the war she was a commandant in the Women's Air Training Corps. In 1950 she founded the Australian Women Pilot's Association, becoming its first President and later its Patron. In 1958 she returned to racing, becoming the first woman from outside the US to enter the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race (the 'Powder Puff Derby') and taking fifth place in a field of 61. Her books include Born to Fly (1960) and My God it's a Woman (1990). She was patron and honorary life member of many aeronautical associations and has enjoyed a successful career as a public speaker.

Updated 2018