Mary Ellis, a “pioneering aviator” who was one of the last surviving female World War II pilots, has died at the age of 101.
Ellis helped deliver Spitfires and bombers to the front line as part of the UK’s Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) during the war.
UK Air Chief Marshal Stephen Hillier mourned her on Twitter.
“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.”
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.
She married fellow pilot Don Ellis in 1961, and lived with him until his death in 2009.
Speaking about her experience of being one of the few female pilots in wartime, she recalled that “a lot of people stood by and watched me take off.”
In an interview with Forces News in April she said: “When I went to collect my first Spitfire the man helping me with my parachute asked, ‘how many of these have you flown before?’ and I said, ‘none, this is the first one’ and he nearly died of shock and he fell off the aeroplane.”
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.”
Ellis was given the freedom of the Isle of Wight earlier this year, with council leader Dave Stewart describing her as a “national, international and island heroine.”
Tributes have been paid to Ellis from across the world of aviation, including Red Arrow pilot Mike Ling.
“More awful news,” he tweeted. “RIP Mary Ellis. A legend of the Air Transport Auxiliary. Over 1000 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.” Lofthouse was a former ATA pilot who died last year.
British historian Dan Snow wrote on Twitter how he had taken his children to meet her last week.
“Mary Ellis, one of Britain’s greatest aviators, died yesterday at age 101. Last week I took my kids to meet her. My boy clasped a model plane. She asked what it was. ‘Spitfire’ he whispered. She leaned down and shared a few private thoughts about the aircraft.”
Former RAF serviceman John Nichol described Ellis as a “truly remarkable lady.”
“Very sad to hear that WW2 ATA pilot Mary Ellis has died aged 101,” Nichol wrote on Twitter. “A truly remarkable lady, she flew 400 Spitfires & 76 different types of aircraft during WW2. Another giant leaves us to john her heroic friends in Blue Skies. Rest in peace Mary; you truly deserve it. Thank you.,” he added.
RAF veteran Sally McGlone tweeted: “RIP Mary Ellis, you have inspired so many women to fly. You will always be remembered, with love and thanks. Blue Skies Thank You. Aetheris Avidi - Eager for the Air.”
Ellis’ death comes a week after Geoffrey Wellum, one of the youngest Spitfire pilots to have fought in the Battle of Britain, died at the age of 96.