Mary Ellis, a “pioneering aviator” who flew 400 of the iconic planes was one of the last surviving female World War II pilots, has died at the age of 101.
At the start of the war, women were not allowed to fly military aircraft, but this changed in 1940. Mrs Ellis, whose maiden name was Wilkins, joined the ATA in 1941 after hearing an advert for women pilots on the radio.
She married Don Ellis, a fellow pilot, in 1961, and continued to live in their marital home beside the runway at Sandown after his death in 2009.
By the end of the war, she had spent more than 1,100 hours flying 56 different types of aircraft. She was one of the last six female pilots still flying for ATA by the end of 1945.
She was born into a farming family in Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, in 1919 and learnt to fly at a nearby flying club.
Ellis, then Mary Wilkins, joined the ATA in 1941 after hearing a radio commercial. She flew around 1,000 planes over four years including 400 Spitfires and 47 Wellington bombers.
After the war, she moved to the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England where she managed the local airport from 1950 to 1970.
Announcing her death, Red Arrows pilot Mike Ling MBE said on Twitter: “More awful news. RIP Mary Ellis. A legend of the Air Transport Auxiliary. Over 1,000 aircraft; 76 different types and over 400 Spitfires alone. I hope you’re enjoying a well-earned sherry up there with Joy Lofthouse again. Blue skies Ma’am #LestWeForget.”
Author John Nichol, the retired Royal Air Force navigator, described Mrs Ellis as a “truly remarkable lady”.
“Another terrible loss,” Hillier wrote. “Mary Ellis, pioneering female aviator, Air Transport Auxiliary veteran, an inspiration to generations. I’ll always remember her proudly reminding us at RAF100 events that she was older than the RAF itself! RIP Mary.”
Asked which plane was her favorite to fly, she said: “The Spitfire as everyone knows is a delightful aeroplane. To fly it is absolutely fantastic — it’s so responsive to all the actions you might want.”