New play about Hampshire Aviation Engineer Beatrice Shilling

Negative Gravity, Life of Beatrice Shilling, book by Matthew Freudenberg

Negative Gravity the Life of Beatrice Shilling by Matthew Freudenberg

Much has been written in recent years about a heroine from the Second World War, whose timely invention and its major significance to the Royal Air Force, was not fully recognised until years after the event.  Now, almost 30 years after the lady died, her story is to be portrayed on stage in Southampton, Hampshire during February.

Beatrice Shilling came to the rescue of the Spitfire pilots during the Battle of Britain. Her simple cure for the Merlin engine flooding problem, which proved to be fatal for too many pilots, was pure genius.

Unconventional, uncompromising, unapologetic, she would today be classed as a ‘difficult woman’. In the 1930s she broke new ground in women’s employment. She was also a speed queen.

For ticket details follow this link to ‘Tilly and the Spitfires.’
Nuffield Southampton Theatres, City Space Studio venue, on 27 and 28 February.

Read more about Beatrice Shilling Naylor here.


Urgent appeal – help to save historic British Air Cushion Craft

Britten Norman CC7 Cushion Craft of the Isle of Wight

Britten Norman CC7 Cushion Craft of the Isle of Wight

Wight Aviation Museum (WAM) has launched an urgent appeal to raise enough money to save an historic British Cushion Craft from being sold abroad. Originally built on the Isle of Wight at St. Helens, on the shores of Bembridge Harbour, this particular hovercraft is at risk of leaving the UK to an overseas buyer at auction in January. Read the full appeal below with details of how you can donate and help to keep this British invention where it belongs. Here!

Can you help us save a historic British Air Cushion vehicle from ending up overseas?

Hello, I am John Kenyon Chair of Trustees of Wight Aviation Museum, a UK registered charity and we are URGENTLY appealing for your help to rescue an important part of the Hovercraft story on the Isle of Wight. We are asking for donations to rescue an original Cushioncraft CC7 built here at St Helen’s Duver.

We need to raise around £15000 to cover the purchase, transportation and refurbishment of the Cushioncraft, which we will bring to the Island so the museum can put the craft on display to the public at Sandown Airport. Additionally we would like to use the skills and knowledge of those that were originally involved in its production who are still here and able to assist us.

Warwick Jacobs, Hovercraft Trust trustee.

Warwick Jacobs, Hovercraft Trust trustee. Copyright Anne Grant.

The reason for the urgent request is the unexpected availability of the craft. We had a call from Warwick Jacobs, who founded the world’s first Hovercraft museum in 1986. He said “My first thought was this naturally belongs on the Isle of Wight, paying tribute to the work of Britten Norman!” And our Trustees agreed!

We have to act quickly if we are to secure this icon of engineering excellence for British aviation heritage as it is highly likely this will be sold off to a potential buyer from overseas at auction in January.

Please donate now as much or as little as you can afford to return this Cushioncraft to the Island where it was made. This will be a fitting tribute to those who worked at St Helens and later went on to manufacture a wide range of hovercraft that continued right up its transfer to Griffon Hoverwork in 2008.

Finally should we not be successful in raising the total sum needed we guarantee that all money donated will be placed into restricted funds and will be used only to purchase further acquisitions for the museum.

For all those contributing to this appeal we will keep you posted with our newsletter so you can see the progress being made by our volunteers and members just email us at

Here is a bit more about the history of the CC7 Cushioncraft…….

Britten Norman Cushion Craft

Britten Norman Cushion Craft. Courtesy of Mark William.

In 1960 Britten-Norman Ltd began trials of their new “Cushioncraft” —their name for an air-cushion vehicle built which needed to be” flown” above the terrain. It was used initially to assess the potential of this type of vehicle for the carriage of bananas from plantations in the Southern Cameroons. Together with its associated company, Crop Culture (Aerial) Ltd, Britten-Norman studied the potential for the Cushioncraft in many different countries. These investigations revealed the possibility of a break-through market in transportation techniques by the use of air cushion vehicles which could accelerate the pace of development in territories where roads are non-existent and costly to build and where rivers are seasonally unnavigable. A very similar concept to that used to promote the BN Islander’s “Land Rover “capabilities in the air, and still in service today, all across the Globe. Cushioncraft was eventually sold to The British Hovercraft Corporation in 1972.

Remember too marine skills were used to develop the first aircraft and it was aviation skills that were used to develop Cushioncraft using reverse engineering concepts which is why the first hovercraft were flown….. by pilots!

If you need convincing about the unique importance of this craft that demonstrates vividly how aviation skills can be used to advantage in Land, Sea and Air applications, take a look at this Pathe News clip on our appeal pages on

Do please make a donation on line by credit or debit card its very quick and easy and you can do so anonymously if you prefer, but if you can accept your donation to be gift aided, this will benefit the charity by an extra 25%. BT does not take a penny out of your donation. They only charge us a card processing fee of 15p. For a Donation of £10 we get £12.35.

So thank you for helping us to conserve and display this important part of the Isle of Wight’s Aviation Heritage. You can find more on our website at

Unless We Forget

First World War Poppies Wave Installation : Over The Top at Portsdown Hill.

WW1 Poppies Wave : Over The Top at Portsdown Hill. Copyright Anne Grant.

As the First World War commemorations draw to a close, we are much better informed about what our ancestors experienced and endured.  These four commemorative years of TV and newspaper coverage has educated us to a greater understanding than we ever had before.

Tiger Moth G-AAHI at D-Day Southwick Revival 2018 with Tiger 9 Display Team

Tiger Moth G-AAHI at Southwick Revival 2018 with Tiger 9 Display Team. Copyright Anne Grant.

Behind every staggering statistic are the tragic stories of each individual who comprised those appalling numbers.

The artistic interpretations, like the deeply moving Poppy Installation at the Tower of London in 2014 and now the lighting of the candles in the Tower Moat in November 2018, have the power to touch us with lasting visual memories.

It is hard to think of something to say which hasn’t been said before by all the historians and television coverage.

But next time you hop onto a holiday flight to foreign shores, ponder on this sobering thought:
More British airmen died in WW1 as trainee pilots then were killed in action against Germany’s Air Force.

First World War Poppies Wave Installation at Fort Nelson

First World War Poppies Wave Installation. Copyright Anne Grant

They died in accidents as a result of aircraft design faults or by instability when landing their planes. The knowledge gained from those awful accidents, in the early years of aviation, contributed towards improvement in aeroplane design and safety.

Those young men never saw action at the fighting Front but they too gave their tomorrows for your safety today.
Remember them and give thanks.


Black Arrow WAMs Home

Black Arrow arrival at Sandown Airport 13 July 2018

Black Arrow arrival at Wight Aviation Museum, Sandown Airport 13 July 2018

The replica of the Black Arrow has arrived at Wight Aviation Museum (WAM), minus the red ‘nose’ cone.

This is currently being manufactured on the Isle of Wight.  When completed it will make the road journey to Sandown Airport to finish the rocket assembly.

It will then be situated outside the museum as a distinctive sentinel, visible to all who arrive at the airfield.

There will be no mistaking the location of WAM amongst all the other hangars!

Alfred Buckham - The Sky Traveller exhibition at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater, Isle of Wight October to December 2018

Alfred Buckham – The Sky Traveller exhibition at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater, Isle of Wight

Go to the Notice Board for more details about organised tours from the mainland to aviation sites around the Island, including an opportunity to see the Black Arrow.

If you are already on the Isle of Wight then go to Wight Aviation Museum page for contact details of how to visit WAM.

Also on the updated Notice Board is news of events this Autumn including a fabulous photography exhibition in Freshwater, Isle of Wight. Vintage aviation images taken by Alfred Buckham are absolute gems of history, capturing a moment in time that has gone forever.

Buckham wanted to be an artist, until he saw pictures by JMW Turner. Alfred went home and destroyed his own paintings. He took up a camera instead. What he produced through his lens is of equal artistry to Turner.  The SKY TRAVELLER is not to be missed.

Also listed are details about a talk by a pilot with HM Coast Guard SAR Helicopter based at Lee-on-the-Solent.

What of the big event anticipated for 2019 – D-Day 75?

News that Government funding won’t be made available for Portsmouth, to stage a major event next June around the Southsea D-Day Museum, has come as a blow to Portsmouth councillors.

Bombed out but NEVER beaten !!! Re-enactment group at Southwick D-Day Revival event 2018

Bombed out but NEVER beaten !!! Southwick D-Day Revival showing the British Spirit. Copyright Anne Grant.

If this leaves plans for Pompey somewhat up in the air, the Southwick Revival stalwarts over the Portsdown Hill are almost guaranteed to put on something even bigger and better than their D-Day 2018 weekend. They won’t be beaten.

As the lady in this photo chalked onto her blackboard propped up under the green door of her Anderson shelter, ‘Bombed out but NEVER beaten !!!’    That’s the spirit, girl!

Go to the Notice Board for a review of what Southwick 2018 did to entertain and educate the crowds.

Memorable Day at Mary Ellis Memorial Service

Mary Ellis 2017 at RAF Brize Norton. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail

Mary Ellis 2017. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail.

Two months after Mary Ellis slipped her earthly bonds and took her place in the history books of British Aviation, the Isle of Wight turned out to show respect for the Queen of Sandown.

Over 350 people of all ages and all walks of life filled St. Mary’s Church in Cowes, even taking their seats upstairs near rafters.

St.Mary's Church, Cowes, flying the flag for Mary Ellis 24 September 2018

St.Mary’s Church, Cowes, flying the flag for Mary Ellis 24 September 2018. Copyright Anne Grant.

In addition to her family and friends there were local politicians, local press and media organisations, Wight Aviation Museum members, IW Flying Club, young Air Cadets, and many octogenarians and hundreds of her many admirers.

Graham Rose of ATA Association paid tribute to Mary and recalled the long friendship between Mary and his mother, the late Molly Rose.

Vespa scooter decorated with Spitfires and 'bullet holes'. Vehicle parked at Northwood House on Mary Ellis Memorial Service day.

Vespa scooter decorated with Spitfires and ‘bullet holes’ parked at Northwood House on Mary Ellis Memorial Service day. Copyright Anne Grant.

Derek Hermiston Hooper gave his tribute, representing the Aircrew and RFC, RNAS Associations. It was Derek who was the force behind Mary receiving the Master Pilot award.

Group Captain Anne-Marie Houghton spoke of ‘Mary the inspiration.’ She had mistakenly thought her achievements in the RAF in the 1990s were a ‘first’. Then she heard about Mary Ellis and all the other women ATA pilots and she realised they had done it all before she was born.

The assembled even heard from Mary Ellis herself when one of her recent interviews was replayed from a BBC podcast ‘The Last Word.’

Councillor Clare Mosdell reminded us of Mary’s contribution to the Island ever since she moved here after she left the ATA, to work as personal pilot to wealthy farmer Mr. Clark. It was he who started Bees Flight and appointed Mary to run it all for him at Sandown. She built up the Airport into a thriving business, the legacy of which is that the airfield still exists today and still thrives.

Author and poet Alison Hill read her ‘Spitfire Salute’ which recollected some of the outstanding moments in Mary’s final years and happy memories of their recent last meeting.

After the prayers and uplifting hymns, the concluding music was the stirring ‘Battle of Britain’ theme tune.

Biggin Hill Spitfire 'Spirit of Kent' playing with the clouds - Mary Ellis style.

Biggin Hill Spitfire ‘Spirit of Kent’ playing with the clouds – Mary Ellis style.

After the service the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar put on a magnificent display with a flypast over Cowes seafront and Northwood House. The Mark IX Spitfire ‘Spirit of Kent’ performed an acrobatic show of high skill, to the delight of the crowd. The pilot ‘played with the clouds’ and then he was gone.

One of many Mary Ellis Memory Boards which displayed her long aviation career.

One of many Mary Ellis Memory Boards which displayed her long aviation career.

Everyone stayed on in the warm September sunshine to swap personal memories of Mary.
My own is this:
I was brought up in the old fashioned way to respect my elders and betters. This included waiting to be given permission to call them by their first name.  For years I addressed Mary as Mrs Ellis while I awaited her permission until finally I asked.
Somewhat amused she replied, “My name is Mary. It is the only one I have. Please use it.”
Blue skies Mary.   Follow this link to see the BBC coverage of Mary Ellis Memorial Service.

Tributes to Mary Ellis

Mary Ellis 2017 at RAF Brize Norton. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail

Mary Ellis 2017. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail.

Celebrities of the aviation world have posted their thoughts on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, about the death last week of Mary Wilkins Ellis.

Tributes have been coming in to this website, which had the privilege to host Mary’s page, from ‘ordinary’ people who greatly admired Mary. (Is there ever such a thing as ‘ordinary’ people?) Below are some of the tributes.

Statement issued 28 July 2018 from Wight Aviation Museum.

Wight Aviation Museum - WAM - of Sandown Airfield, Isle of Wight, England

Wight Aviation Museum – WAM – of Sandown Airfield, Isle of Wight, England

The Museum was extremely saddened to hear the news of the death of Mary Ellis at the age of 101. The Chair of the Museum, John Kenyon, wished to express the deep condolences of all its members to Mary’s family and friends at this sad time.
“I have known Mary for a number of years now and she will be remembered locally as a heroine who helped to establish the role of aviatrix pilots at a critical time for the nation. Without the Air Transport Auxiliary’s (ATA) wartime efforts the RAF would not have had enough aircraft to put into the sky to counter the war in the Air. Mary was an extraordinary lady and her legacy as a World War II pilot and her pivotal role at Sandown Airport, were key inspirations for the creation of the Wight Aviation Museum. It’s aim is to celebrate the considerable history in aircraft design & production on the Isle of Wight, as well as those individuals on the Island who have made an outstanding contribution to aviation, of which Mary was certainly one. We had been working with Mary and her associates to bring her story to our new museum and we hope our Mary Ellis exhibit will be a fitting tribute to this truly inspirational lady. In 2017 she celebrated her 100th Birthday with a flight from Sandown in her favourite aircraft, the Spitfire, becoming the oldest person to do so. More recently, Mary was awarded the Freedom of the Isle of Wight and, presenting the award the Leader of the Council exalted Mary as a ‘national, international and Island heroine’.”
To read the full tribute to Mary go to the Wight Aviation Museum website.

Captain Sara Frizzera in a Tornado of the Italian Air Force

Captain Sara Frizzera in a Tornado of the Italian Air Force. Image courtesy of Captain Giorgio Catone.

As an example of just how international was Mary’s standing in the aviation world, one of the very few female fighter pilots in the Italian Air Force, has been a fan of Mary Ellis for a while. Captain Sara Frizzera has sent this tribute:
“RIP Mary Ellis, a pioneer among female aviators, a symbol of gender equality. Cieli blu.

Sara’s husband, Captain Giorgio Catone, had been trying to arrange a secret surprise visit to the Isle of Wight for Sara so that she could meet Mary Ellis at Sandown Airport. Mary knew of this, as Solent Aviatrix had been trying to help Giorgio, by liaising with Mary.

Husband and wife Captain Giorgio Catone and Captain Sara Frizzera of the Italian Air Force

Captain Giorgio Catone and Captain Sara Frizzera of the Italian Air Force. Image courtesy of Giorgio Catone.

Sara has said that she would like to attend any memorial service planned for Mary on the Island next year.

The Isle of Wight Council leader Dave Stewart is on record as saying, “I’ve asked council officers to look at appropriate ways in which we can further recognise Mary’s remarkable life.”

Another tribute that has come in is from Philip Sewell. Philip is typical of many of Mary’s fans who wanted to express their admiration to her. Philip said in March this year, “I’m not RAF, simply a life-long fan of matters aviation, UK in particular — although I did have an uncle who flew Halifax aircraft and was KIA in Norway (1942 – Special Operations). I went to university in Norfolk where so many old RAF/USAAF airbases still dot the landscape; a visual reminder of the scale of the aerial conflict in WW2. I first came across Mary on the television when the ‘Spitfire Women’ programme was first broadcast (around 2010). I was absolutely hooked on the story of the ATA and how they coped with flying so many different types of aircraft, often with nothing more than an evening’s perusal of the relevant Pilot’s Notes. Before then my knowledge was limited to a vague idea of their activities and the fact that Amy Johnson was a member. Since then, thankfully, much more of the ATA story has come to the public’s attention, resulting in some very belated recognition and appreciation. This is a chance for an ordinary “civvy” to simply express gratitude and admiration for a damn fine job!”
Philip’s message was relayed on to Mary this spring.

Spitfire P7370 - Southampton Roundel - Southwick Revival 2018. Image copyright Anne Grant.

Spitfire P7370 – Southampton Roundel – Southwick Revival 2018. Image copyright Anne Grant.

On Wednesday of last week when the news broke of Mary’s passing, Philip once again got in touch, “I’ve heard the sad news via one of the Facebook aircraft groups that Mary left us on her final patrol this morning…no doubt she is opening the throttle in order to catch up with Tom Neill and Geoffrey Wellum, in order to form an evening patrol of three Spitfires…. Condolences to all of her family and friends.

Dan Llywelyn Hall portrait artist Dambusters Reunited. Image courtesy of Dan Llywelyn Hall

Dan Llywelyn Hall portrait artist Dambusters Reunited. Image courtesy of Dan.

Dan Llywelyn Hall is a portrait artist who contacted Mary via this website. In February Dan wanted to paint Mary’s portrait. He also extended an invitation for Mary to attend a special fund raising RAF100 dinner at the RAF Club Piccadilly on 7 September.
Dan said, “The event will have ten tables each with a pilot from the particular aircraft. It will be something of a momentous occasion.”

Then on Thursday last week Dan got in touch again, “Sincere condolences for the nation’s loss of Mary Ellis today. I’m sorry to hear the news. What a most remarkable lady.

Kaitlin MacDonald with her grandmother ATA pilot Yvonne MacDonald and Yvonne's daughter

Kaitlin with her grandmother ATA pilot Yvonne MacDonald and Yvonne’s daughter. Image courtesy Kaitlin MacDonald.

Last year Kaitlin, the grand daughter of ATA Spitfire Girl Mrs. Yvonne MacDonald found Mary’s page on this website. Kaitlin, who is in America, wanted to communicate with Mrs. Ellis to ask about her Great Aunt Joy Lofthouse. Joy and Yvonne were the only real ‘Sisters In Spitfires’. Kaitlin was put in touch with Mary.

Pilot Rod Hall-Jones in New Zealand, saw the sad news about Mary. Rod said, “Mary’s interesting life and her death was on our television news and in the newspaper, what a lady.”

Such has been the world wide coverage of Mary’s passing.

Out of the Shadows Spitfire People Secret Spitfire Factories Nuffield Theatres Southampton.

Out of the Shadows Spitfire People Secret Spitfire Factories Nuffield Theatres Southampton.

Three years ago the makers of the documentary ‘Secret Spitfires’, now on general release in cinemas throughout the UK, found Mary’s web page here and asked to contact her. They visited Mary at her home and filmed her for inclusion in this fascinating film. It also features the late Joy Lofthouse and Stella Rutter.

Ten years ago Mary said to me, “All this interest and attention has come too late in life.”

Well, if that was so Mrs. Ellis, you certainly packed in a lot of late life experiences in the intervening decade until now. It must have helped to make up for all the preceding sixty years when it seemed that few people of the generations below you had any interest in or respect for what you and everyone else did in the ATA. We salute you all.

The same applies to everyone, who ‘did their bit’, in all the armed forces and in ‘civvie’ street – overlooked, forgotten and seemingly irrelevant to far too many people in today’s complacent, soft living 21st Century.

Now heavenly twins – Rest in Peace Mary

Mary Ellis took off on her final flight on Tuesday 24 July.

Joy Lofthouse and Mary Ellis at White Waltham Air Show 2017

Joy Lofthouse and Mary Ellis at White Waltham Air Show 2017. Courtesy of Alison Hill.

She left us mere mortals here on earth.

There is little more that can be said which hasn’t already been said today across the media. So let’s keep it simple.

When Joy Lofthouse died last year, Mary told Solent Aviatrix, “It is hard to lose a good pal after so many years, I miss her very much.”

Now Mary Ellis has rejoined her old pal Joy where they can play with the clouds.  Heavenly Twins back together.
Rest in peace.