Two Dundee-based pilots are gearing up to circumnavigate the UK to promote women in aviation.
Ten years after Evie Saunders bestowed an aircraft to Tayside Aviation, in which over 260 scholarships have now been completed, Rachel Foyle and Claire Birch are embarking on a special 10-day trip in Evie’s honour to entice more women into the industry. At present, only 12% of UK pilots are female, with the worldwide figure even lower at just 6%.
Throughout her life, Evie had a great interest in aircraft and flying but did not take to the air until 1959. In 1985, by then aged 64, she began her studies and flying lessons, receiving her Pilot’s Licence in 1989 at the age of 68. She went on to obtain a night-rating, instrument-rating and twin-engine rating, later becoming fully licensed in each category in the United States as well as the UK. When well over the age of 70, she entered and won a number of flying competitions against younger and more experienced pilots, and was presented with the prestigious Jean Lennox Bird Trophy for the most outstanding British woman pilot of the year in 1992.
In 2003, Evie took ill and set out to purchase an aircraft for the benefit of helping young people to learn to fly, confiding only in her niece, Lorraine Richardson. Evie died in 2004 before having the chance to fly G-EVIE, the PA 28 Piper Warrior aircraft she bought but, with her vision to donate G-EVIE as a training aircraft for the next generation of pilots, Lorraine set out to ensure that Evie’s dream became a reality. In 2008, G-EVIE was donated to Tayside Aviation in Dundee, in order to run scholarships on behalf of the Air League Educational Trust.
Now, Rachel and Claire are preparing for ‘Evie’s Grand Tour of Britain’ to fly round the UK in G-EVIE. In between flights, the girls will be documenting their trip by blogging at https://eviegrandtour.wixsite.com/taysideaviation, as well as through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Being awarded the British Women Pilots’ Association (BWPA) Air Total UK Total Flying Future Scholarship was a great contribution to the funding and feasibility of the trip. The trip has been met with overwhelming enthusiasm, support and kindness by Lorraine Richardson and the various airfields involved in the tour. Pooleys Flight Equipment has also made a generous donation of the equipment necessary for the tour.
Rachel (23), a University of St Andrews graduate, began her PPL training at Prestwick aged 16, flew solo later that year and gained her PPL fixed wing licence at 18.
One of 15 women currently enrolled on the BSc Professional Pilot Aviation Practice course at Tayside Aviation, Rachel said, “For most school-leavers and women generally, becoming a pilot isn’t necessarily an obvious career choice. My Grandpa gave my brother a trial lesson for his 17th birthday, and I had the opportunity to be the backseat passenger. I immediately caught the flying bug, and began my training a few months later. Evie was a truly remarkable woman and we hope that our trip will keep the spirit of Evie in the skies and inspire others to realise their aviation aspirations.”
Meanwhile, Claire (35) from Buckinghamshire, who began flying at the age of 14 following a gift voucher lesson from her Dad, is a former RAF Navigator who spent 10 years in the back seat of a Tornado fighter including a detachment in the Falkland Islands. Claire then qualified as a PPL fixed wing pilot at Tayside Aviation in Dundee, and has also obtained her New Zealand PPL. Now Safety Officer at Tayside Aviation, Claire is working towards for her Commercial Pilot’s Licence. Evie’s Grand Tour will also allow her to tick off the 450 mile cross country trip which is a key part of her training.
Claire commented, “The trip is a fantastic opportunity to enthuse, encourage and inform women about the opportunities within aviation. I am looking forward to visiting new airfields and embarking on a trip of a much greater magnitude than anything I have done before.”
Evie’s niece Lorraine added, “It is really exciting and emotional for me to think that these ladies are embarking on this trip and that Evie’s dream is still making such a difference. My Aunt Evie would have been so thrilled and excited about the tour and full of praise for Rachel, Claire and Tayside Aviation, especially James Watt for organising it. The number of scholarships created by Tayside Aviation and the Air League is fantastic and hopefully many more young women will take advantage of these opportunities and not have to wait until they are 68 to realise their dreams! Thank you for keeping Evie’s dream alive.”
The BWPA is delighted to be supporting Claire and Rachel to achieve their dreams and ambitions. Pauline Vahey, former Chairman and now Ambassador for the BWPA said that, having known Evie, albeit briefly, she would be proud that her legacy of encouraging more young women to fly continues to be realised.
James Watt, Managing Director of Tayside Aviation hopes that the trip will inspire a new generation of females to take to the skies – “We are absolutely thrilled, as I’m sure Evie would have been, that Rachel and Claire are heading off on this UK trip in her honour. Evie’s fascinating life story perfectly complements Rachel’s and Claire’s determination and passion to attract more women into the industry, and we hope that their story kick-starts some new careers in the months ahead.”
Tayside Aviation carry out some 150 Air Cadet scholarships per year and around 30 Air League Educational Trust Scholarships. These are sponsored flying packages to steer young people into aviation. These can range from 12 hours of flying to a full Private Pilot’s licence or support towards becoming an instructor.
Subject to change, the trip will go from Dundee – Durham – Syerston – Norwich- White Waltham – Compton Abbas – Bournemouth – Dunkeswell – Lands End – Swansea – Caernarfon – Kirkbride – Newtonards – Prestwick – Oban – Inverness – Kirkwall – Dundee.
Tayside Aviation run regular monthly open days to provide information and course overviews. Please visit www.taysideaviation.co.uk for more information, or telephone (01382) 644372