Nancy-Bird Walton

“Other women who flew were women of independent means. But I had to do something with it.”

Nancy-Bird Walton, Australian aviatrix, 1915-2009

Known as the “Angel of the Outback,” Nancy-Bird Walton became the youngest woman in the British Empire to earn a pilot’s licence at the age of 19. Standing only 4 foot 11, the diminutive pilot had big dreams. She flew in the face, so to speak, of gender preference, naming her second book My God! It’s a Woman! Her mother said she had jumped off fences as a 4-year-old pretending to be an airplane. You have to wonder if her future vocation in the skies was destined by the surname “Bird.” Her husband called her Nancy-Bird, a name she preferred. 

Walton had left school at 13 (it was the beginning of the Great Depression and she had to work) but soon found her way to flying lessons. She passed her licence in just 7 weeks and in 1936 she won the women’s trophy in an aviation race between Melbourne and Adelaide. Throughout her career, Walton never had a crash, or even an accident, despite having to land in uncharted and dangerous terrain.  “You haven’t seen Australia until you have seen it from the sky,” she said.

She formed the Australian Women Pilots' Association and served as its president. Walton flew a variety of planes, including her first, a Gipsy Moth that she used to give people free rides at County Fairs, becoming the first female pilot to take on passengers. The plane was later used as an air ambulance in the outback, earning her the moniker “Angle of the Outback.” She established the Royal Flying Doctor Service during WWII, and trained other female pilots, often volunteering her time.

In 1990 Walton received the Order of Australia and in 2008 Qantas airline named its A380 aircraft the Nancy-Bird. She held her pilot’s licence until three years before her death at the age of 93. 


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