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Nancy Bird Walton was a pioneering Australian airwoman. In the 1930s, rejecting the traditional role of females of her time, she became a fully qualified pilot. She was only 19 at the time.
Nancy Bird wanted to fly almost as soon as she could walk. In 1933, at the age of 18, her passion drove her to take flying lessons. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, who was the first man to fly across the mid-Pacific, had just opened a pilots' school near Sydney, and she was among his first pupils. Most women learnt to fly for fun, but Nancy planned to fly for a living.
Using a legacy of 200 pounds from a great aunt plus money loaned by her father, Nancy bought her first aircraft, a Gipsy Moth. Soon after, Nancy and her friend Peggy McKillop took off on a tour, landing at country fairs and giving rides to people who had never seen an aircraft before, let alone a female pilot. Whilst touring, Bird met Reverend Stanley Drummond. He wanted her to set up a flying medical service in New South Wales. In 1935, Nancy was hired to operate the service. Nancy's own Gipsy Moth was used as an air ambulance. Soon she was able to buy a better-equipped aircraft, and she began covering more and more distant territory. She told others that it was rewarding but lonely work.
During World War II, Nancy trained women in skills needed to help the men flying in the Royal Australian Air Force. She was 24 when she married an Englishman, Charles Walton, with whom she had two children. In 1950, Nancy founded the Australian Women Pilots' Association (AWPA). In the following decades she received many honors.
One of her last interviews was for the feature length documentary film Flying Sheilas which provided a unique insight into her life along with seven other Australian female pilots. In all her years of flying, Nancy was never involved in an accident despite the great risks involved in the early years of aviation.
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