It’s 1936, in Australia; an outback grazier has been stranded by floodwaters on his property.
A plane will be sent to rescue him, but it is necessary for him to speak to the pilot to give landing instructions. His agent handed over the phone, which is when he spoke the words, “my God, it’s a woman!” It became the title of pioneering Australian aviator, Nancy-Bird Walton’s autobiography.
Some people believe names denote destiny. Since the age of four, Nancy-Bird Walton wanted to fly and at 18, she had lessons with the great aviator, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. That she had to sit on two cushions to reach the controls was immaterial. Before she died in January 2009, she launched the first Airbus A380 for Qantas, which was named after her.
This year, British presenter Carol Vorderman takes off on a solo flight around the world. In an interview with Alice Audley for the Telegraph, she said: “My two heroines, are Mildred Bruce and Richarda Morrow-Tait, who was the first woman pilot to fly around the world. Those are two women that I think young girls should get to know about. They are inspirational women.”
Better known in her role co-hosting the game show, Countdown, and as mathematics advisor to the government, it may come as a surprise that Vorderman is undertaking this solo flight. She wants to encourage more young women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Already her daughter is aiming to be an astronaut. However, the most fundamental reason for the flight is that it is what she has always wanted to do. Having raised a family and got the money to buy a plane, she is fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Sixty years after Nancy-Bird Walton began flying in Australia, Vorderman was told women don’t fly when she applied to the Air Cadets at Cambridge. Her reasons for this journey are three-fold – her life long ambition to fly; to demonstrate to young women the possibilities which are open to them; and retrieve out of obscurity, women who have been either written out of history, or largely ignored.
Vorderman has named her plane, Mildred, after one of her heroines, British aviator Mildred Bruce, formally known by her married name, Mrs Victor Bruce.
Her twin engine Diamond DA42, Mildred, is only able to fly at a maximum height of 18,000ft, so Voderman will be forced to fly through inevitably bad weather. She will also need to recognise the risks of oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) on her body, potential ditching in a dangerous sea or shark-infested waters in the Bay of Bengal. However, it’s not just the elements that pose a threat, as she flies near politically unstable areas in the Middle East.
So on your next flight check out the aircraft captain. Ask how many women pilots the airline has. Nothing should stop a woman committed to flying so don’t let anything stop you achieving your dream.