Britain’s last surviving female World War Two pilot about to turn 101

Britain’s last surviving female World War Two pilot remembers her days flying Spitfires

Britain’s last surviving female World War Two pilot remembers her days flying Spitfires, Hurricanes and Hellcats now she is a great-grandmother about to turn 101

  • Eleanor Wadsworth joined the Air Transport Auxiliary at the outbreak of the war
  • She flew 22 different types of aircraft after successfully completing training 
  • By the end of the war she had completed 590 hours in the cockpit – 430 solo
  • Despite her love of aviation, after the war Mrs Wadsworth never piloted again 

Britain’s last surviving female pilot from WWII has shared memories of her wartime role ahead of turning 101 next month.

Eleanor Wadsworth joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) trainee pilot scheme after war broke out in 1939.

Born in 1917 in Nottingham, Mrs Wadsworth is now the last surviving British woman pilot to fly in the Second World War.

Eleanor Wadsworth joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and continued to serve until 1945

Mrs Wadsworth, pictured here on an American Hellcat, was one of  166 women in the ATA

Ms Wadsworth, pictured bottom left, flew 22 types of aircraft during her career with the ATA

She was one of 166 women who were accepted on ATA and managed to fly 22 different aircraft including the iconic Hurricane, Spitfire and Mustang.

The then 25-year-old was originally working as an architect’s assistant when she saw a notice recruiting people with no flying experience.

Mrs Wadsworth, who now lives in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk said: ‘The thought of learning to fly for free was a great incentive.

‘We would be trained to transport planes and pilots to and from various airfields.

Details of Mrs Wadsworth’s career are contained in her flight log books, pictured

In total, she spent 590 hours in the cockipit with 430 of them flying solo

‘I was one of the first six to be accepted. Only 25 per cent got verified out of everyone who applied.

‘I put my name down without thinking anything else about it and was accepted after passing all the medical checks.

‘Anybody who fulfilled the necessary training was quickly accepted.

‘It was out of a wide range of people, it wasn’t just females – they wanted people who had never flown before.’

Mrs Wadsworth was sent to Haddenham Airfield in Buckinghamshire, to start the first leg of her training.

Since then, the now great-grandmother of seven and grandmother of five, has flown to the United States, around Washington, Seattle, Alaska and around the United Kingdom.

Mrs Wadsworth, pictured in her uniform during the war, was one of the first six people accepted by the ATA

Mrs Wadsworth said before learning how to fly she had to learn about the weather as well as the various aircraft systems such as the engine. She also had to learn how to navigate.  

She said: ‘I was able to fly solo after 12 hours of training – from never being able to fly before.

‘But it takes a life time to be able to learn to fly perfectly.

‘It is not particularly difficult to learn if you are taught to fly properly.

‘You had to have a good idea of maps.

‘Navigation was also really important because we never had any air to ground connection in those days.

This is a painting of one of the spitfires delivered by Mrs Wadsworth during the war

‘We couldn’t phone or get in touch with anyone else. Once we were in the air we were on our own.’

Mrs Wadsworth spent the next few years posted at several of ATA’s 14 ferry pools, earning her Class 3 licence which allowed her to fly light twin-engine aircraft.

Mrs Wadsworth, who was married to Bernard Wadsworth – a flight engineer for ATA – for 71 years, said she was in the cockpit until the very last day of the war in 1945 when the ATA was closed down.

Amazingly, after completing her service at the end of the war, Mrs Wadsworth never piloted another aircraft again

She said: ‘I haven’t piloted or flown a plane since then.

‘I got married at the same time ATA closed, to my husband who continued to work as an engineer.

‘We had our two boys, George and Robert, and I decided to settle down into the domestic life until they grew up.’

At the end of the war in 1945, Mrs Wadsworth had flow 590 flying hours, 430 of which were flown solo.

She adds: ‘It’s a very new experience and everybody finds it difficult at first to think in three dimensions rather than two like when you’re driving.

‘But if you are taught properly, it is fine.

‘Now, when I look back at my log book and my pictures I remember little details about that time and it all comes back to me.’

Eleanor will be turning 101 on October 15 and will be celebrating with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. 

According to Mrs Wadsworth, when flying it is necessary to think in three dimensions 

Mrs Wadsworth’s log book was completed using her maiden name E D Fish

At the end of the war, Mrs Wadsworth married Bernard who was an ATA engineer

Mrs Wadsworth said her husband Bernard continued as an engineer after the war

Mrs Wadsworth, who is a great grandmother, will turn 101 on October 15 

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