Mary Earnshaw had a yearning to teach from an early age, but little did she know her passion would propel her to exciting new heights in the cockpit of a Cessna 152 followed by a near 30-year career as a pilot.
The GemLife Pacific Paradise resident who grew up in Western Australia also holds the distinction of becoming Australia’s first chief female flying instructor.
It’s an accomplishment of which she is proud and one that put her among the profession’s trailblazers for pilots of the `fairer sex’, according to Mary who still remembers taking her first solo flight at her local Bunbury Aero Club.
“My first solo flight was the highlight of my flying career. It’s the day the instructor stops you on the runway, turns you around and then says ‘ I’m out of here’. I said `no don’t go’, peeled my fingers back from his shirt and he said, `I’ll see you when you get back’.
“To fly and then land on my own was like emotional gold, and something I’ll never forget,” said Mary.
“I think the main attraction to flying initially was that it was something very different, not the sort of thing most women would even have contemplated as a career during the 1970s and 1980s but once I took my first solo flight in a Cessna 152, I was hooked.”
In December 1982, while working as a part-time receptionist at Perth’s Royal Aero Club to help finance her ambition, Mary studied and gained her Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL).
“I spent my weekends undertaking pilot training in my hometown of Bunbury a few hours-drive south of Perth,” she said.
Armed with her CPL, Mary’s flight path from here was unclear until one day her mentor, the late Tom Talbot, suggested she combine her two loves of flying and teaching by gaining her Flight Instructor Rating, which she achieved in 1983.
“I loved teaching people to fly and stuck with it for many years. In 1986 I was appointed in-house Flight Testing Officer which was an honour in itself because it was a role normally conducted by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.”
A year later Mary was appointed Chief Flying Instructor in Perth, the first female in Australia to hold the title and in 1988 became one of the first people in Western Australia to be granted Approved Testing Officer privileges enabling her to conduct commercial flight testing outside of the Royal Aero Club. At one time she had more than 60 flight instructors under her command.
When she felt she had achieved everything she set out to do and after more than 20 years as a pilot, Mary retired from flying in 2002 by which time she had clocked up 11,000 log book hours and taught scores of students how to fly.
Mary became a resident at GemLife Pacific Paradise last year which has given her the freedom to do whatever she likes while having the security of a gated community close to everything she loves about the area. It is also close to the Sunshine Coast Airport where Mary is a LifeFlight Australia and CareFlight volunteer.
In 2018, in honour of her many achievements within a stellar career in the aviation industry, Mary was asked to carry the Commonwealth Games’ baton on behalf of Caloundra which she described as a `huge honour’.
Mary’s love for teaching has recently seen her reach out to other women who have dreamed of a career as a pilot by briefly returning to the skies, this time in a seaplane for the first time, to celebrate International Women’s Day.
“All anyone needs to succeed is passion. I was passionate about both flying and teaching and was so fortunate to be able to combine both in an amazing career. I loved every moment of it and would urge anyone, especially any women who are interested in flying, to give it a go and don’t give up.”