Mary Ellis (pilot)

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Mary Ellis
Photograph of Mary Ellis. An elderly woman with white hair wearing a dark blue suit and a red British Legion poppy.
Mary Ellis at the Royal Albert Hall for her appearance at the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance in November 2016
Mary Wilkins

(1917-02-02)2 February 1917
Died24 July 2018(2018-07-24) (aged 101)
OccupationAir Transport Auxiliary
Royal Air Force
airport manager
Known forAircraft pilot
Don Ellis
(m. 1961; died 2009)

Mary Ellis (née Wilkins; 2 February 1917 – 24 July 2018) was a British ferry pilot, and one of the last surviving British women pilots from the Second World War.[1]

Early life[edit]

Mary Wilkins was born on 2 February 1917, in Leafield, Oxfordshire, to a farming family.[2] She developed a fascination with aviation from a young age, as her family home was located near Royal Air Force bases at Bicester Airfield and Port Meadow.[3] At the age of 11 her father paid for her to have a joy ride in a biplane at a flying circus, and she decided she wanted to learn to fly. When she was 16 she started having lessons at a flying club in Witney, successfully gained a private pilot's licence and flew for pleasure until the start of the Second World War in 1939, when all civilian flying was banned.[1][4]

Second World War[edit]

In October 1941, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, and was posted to a pool of women flyers based in Hamble in Hampshire. Over the course of the war she flew over 1,000 planes of 76 different types, including Harvards, Hurricanes, Spitfires and Wellington bombers. Some of her flights were to relocate planes from Royal Air Force airfields to the frontline, and others were to ferry new planes from factories to airfields.[1][3][5]

Post Second World War[edit]

After the war the Air Transport Auxiliary was disbanded. However, Ellis was seconded to the Royal Air Force and continued to ferry aircraft.[5] She was one of the first women to fly the Gloster Meteor, Britain's first jet fighter.[3] She later moved to the Isle of Wight.

In 1950, she became the manager of Sandown Airport, and Europe's first female air commandant.[6] Ellis managed Sandown for twenty years, during which time she also founded the Isle of Wight Aero Club.[1][6] A former ATA colleague, Vera Strodl, was hired by Ellis as the chief flying instructor.[3]

In 2016, Ellis published her autobiography: A Spitfire Girl: One of the World's Greatest Female ATA Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story.[7][8]


In 2017 a plaque was unveiled at RAF Brize Norton in recognition of Ellis' and fellow pilot, Molly Rose's, "contribution to ATA".[9]

In 2018, Ellis was granted the Freedom of the Isle of Wight.[10]

Ellis was featured on the BBC in 2018 highlighting, among other achievements, solo flights where other teams consisted of eight crew.[3][11]

Personal life[edit]

She married fellow pilot Don Ellis in 1961, and they had a house next to the runway at Sandown. Don Ellis died in 2009.[1]

Ellis died at her home in Sandown, Isle of Wight, on 24 July 2018 at the age of 101.[12]


  • A Spitfire Girl: One of the World's Greatest Female ATA Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story, Melody Foreman, Barnsley, S. Yorkshire Frontline Books 2016. ISBN 9781473895362, OCLC 975366210


  1. ^ a b c d e McKay, Jessica (26 July 2018). "Mary Ellis, the last female second world war pilot, dies aged 101". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  2. ^ Ceylan, Yeginsu. "Mary Ellis, Who Flew British Spitfires in World War II, Dies at 101". The New York Times. 26 July 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Mary Ellis the air pioneer". BBC News. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  4. ^ Nichol, John (2018). Spitfire: A Very British Love Story. Simon and Schuster.
  5. ^ a b "Flying against all expectations – Island Life magazine". 1 December 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Isle of Wight mourns legendary aviator Mary Ellis". Isle of Wight County Press. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  7. ^ Foreman, Melody (2016). A Spitfire Girl: One of the World's Greatest Female ATA Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story. Frontline Books. ISBN 978-1-47389-536-2.
  8. ^ Mary Ellis, As Told To Melody Foreman; To Melody Foreman, As Told (2016). A Spitfire Girl: One of the World's Greatest Female ATA Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story. Havertown: Frontline Books. ISBN 9781473895393.
  9. ^ "Female WW2 flyers honoured in RAF Brize Norton ceremony", BBC News, Oxford, 14 March 2017.
  10. ^ Telegraph Reporters (26 July 2018). "Mary Ellis, last surviving female WW2 Spitfire pilot, dies aged 101". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  11. ^ "The last surviving female pilot from World War II". BBC London, 9 February 2018 (YouTube video).
  12. ^ "WW2 Spitfire Pilot Dies". BBC News. 26 July 2018. Retrieved 26 July 2018.

External links[edit]

  • Mary Ellis at IMDb 'Spitfire Sisters', documentary with Mary Ellis.
  • [1] Youtube of the documentary.