WORLD’S ONLY FEMALE SPITFIRE PILOT
Carolyn was born on a very rural farm in New South Wales, Australia. It was so remote that air travel was essential to survival.
She married Nick, a design engineer and pilot and they had two children, Richard and Daisy.
In 1979, Nick found two dilapidated Spitfires for sale in a Scottish museum. The couple bought one of them and started to restore it at St Merryn airfield in Cornwall, where they had moved to. It took them 5 years hard work, completing it in 1985.
It was at this point Carolyn decided she had to learn to fly. She learned in a biplane.
But in 1988, Nick was killed in a car crash in Sussex. This made her all the more determined to fly the Spitfires (which needed an extra qualification).
Family and friends were not keen on this idea as a mother of two, but she was determined to do so to commemorate her husband. “To keep our Spitfire operational and keep it for the embodiment of my husband, I had to learn to fly it. There had to be another Grace in the cockpit.”
Her first solo flight was in 1990. Women had flown Spitfires in the Second World War as part of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), but never in conflict.
Carolyn became the first woman to fly a Spitfire in a flying display. As far as is known, no woman had flown a Spitfire since the war.
During the Second World War over 20,000 Spitfires were produced. There are now very few still operational.
She kept her Spitfire ML407 (known as the ‘Grace Spitfire’) at RAF Bentwaters near Woodbridge in Suffolk. Her plane had been the first to shoot down an enemy plane on D-Day. It had flown 176 successful missions throughout the war.
Despite living in Cornwall she kept the farm in Australia.
The insurance for her plane was exceptionally high. It was paid for by sponsors and an anonymous donor.
Carolyn flew over 900 hours at various events. In 2004 she flew over Chartwell as part of the remembrance of D-Day (60th anniversary).
In 2011 she flew the plane as part of the 75th anniversary commemorations of the Spitfire’s first flight in 1936.
She ran Air Leasing Ltd, a company based in Northampton which specialised in restoring old planes. Her children were co-directors.
In 2017 Carolyn decided to retire from flying. Her son Richard started to fly the Grace Spitfire.
Carolyn was killed in a car crash at Goulburn, New South Wales – very close to Sydney. Her son Richard was a passenger in the car but he escaped with minor injuries. The men in the other car were uninjured.
The Kent Battle of Britain Museum said, “For this tragedy to happen twice is beyond words. She was a true legend of the sky.”
At her death she was still the only qualified female Spitfire pilot in the world.
RIP – Restoring Iconic Plane