Jean Bird

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Jean Bird
Jean Lennox Bird.jpg
Pilot licence photo
BornJean Lennox Bird
8 July 1912
Hong Kong
Died29 April 1957
Aviation career
Known forPioneering pilot

Jean Bird (8 July 1912 – 29 April 1957) was a pioneering pilot and the first women to get her RAF wings.


Jean Lennox Bird was born in Hong Kong on July 8, 1912, daughter of Lt Col. Lennox Godfrey Bird who was an architect with multiple buildings to his name in Shanghai. She took up flying when she was just eighteen. She trained at Hampshire Aeroplane Club in Hamble, in 1930. Her father retired in 1935, eventually to Old Farm, in Beech, England. By the time war broke out in 1939 she was an experienced pilot. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as assistant section leader in 1940 and remained there for a year until she was able to join the Air Transport Auxiliary as a First Officer on 1st August 1941. Bird worked there until the organisation was closed down at the end of the war on 30 November 1945.[1][2][3]

Like many of the women pilots Bird then joined the Women’s Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. When she joined the reserve force was training women as fully qualified pilots. Bird was the first of these to receive their RAF Wings. By the time she qualified Bird had 3,000 hours in more than 90 different types of aircraft. She was awarded her wings on 20th September 1952 at Redhill Aerodrome.[4][5][2][6][7] She was also a member of the 3rd Hants (Alton) Battalion of the Home Guard from December 1955, one of 16 women to do so. She also worked with the Women’s Junior Air Corp training women to fly and she was a glider pilot.[6][3][8] Bird was never one to let establish gender stereotypes hold her back. She managed to get membership of the all-male RAF Club in Piccadilly by not identifying her gender. Her membership was rejected as soon as it was discovered she was female.[6][9]

The Meridian Air Maps Miles Aerovan

While a reservist Bird was working for Meridian Air Maps doing photographic survey work. While surveying the proposed route of a new road the plane she was flying crashed and she was killed on 29 April 1957. The verdict on the incident was accidental death although evidence was shown that the airplane had been incorrectly fitted with a spare part. She is remembered with a trophy which is awarded to a British woman pilot who has achieved a noteworthy performance in aviation by the British Women Plots’ Association.[2][6][3][10][11][12]

First five[edit]

Jean Bird, Benedetta Willis, Jackie Moggridge, Freydis Leaf and Joan Hughes were the first five women to be awarded their wings. The next didn't gain wings until Julie Ann Gibson in 1991.[13][14]


  1. ^ Alton Herald 2018.
  2. ^ a b c BWPA 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Defence 2017.
  4. ^ Ferguson 2017, p. 34.
  5. ^ British Pathe 1952.
  6. ^ a b c d Alton Herald 2018.
  7. ^ The RAF 100 Schools Project 2017.
  8. ^ The National Archives 2008.
  9. ^ Doughan & Gordon 2007, p. 36.
  10. ^ Goldman 2013, p. 1151.
  11. ^ Brown 2017, p. 33.
  12. ^ Walker 2008, p. 379.
  13. ^ Patrick Sawer; Helena Horton (8 July 2018). "Women RAF pilots 'forgotten' in centenary celebrations, say relatives".
  14. ^ "Celebrating 100 years of British women pilots". British Women Pilot's Association. 17 July 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2017.