By Tania Phillips
Australia’s first female Chief Flying Instructor (CFI), and CASA designated Pilot Examiner, Mary Earnshaw achieved another first on International Women’s Day.
Thanks to her friends Shawn and Sandy Kelly of Paradise Seaplanes the experienced pilot found herself not just on a joyflight but back in charge of a plane.
“We’ve known Mary for a couple of years and we really thought she was this really amazing person and really amazing personality but over the years we’ve got to know more and more about her story,” Shawn Kelly.
“We’ve come to realise she’s done some really incredible things in her life, some groundbreaking firsts.
“She’s got a tremendous depth of experience in teaching people to fly. She was the first female flight instructor in WA. She was the first female designated pilot examiner in Australia. She’s just got this tremendous passion for aviation and for teaching people to fly. So we had an opportunity for her to do something different in aviation for international women’s day. She had never flown or flown a seaplane before we thought how good would that be for her to do yet another first right here on the Sunshine Coast.
“It was the first time I’d had an opportunity to fly with her and that was just magic to see her. It’s been years and years since she’s flown, just to see her expression and how happy and excited she was to be in the cockpit it was awesome.”
Actually it’s been 15 years since Mary has flown – though she has stayed in the aviation industry and has just been asked to write a series of articles for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and is excited to be back to mentoring again.
“That’s the thing I love about my career – the teaching,” she said.
“When I was a little girl – what do you want to be when you grow up Mary? Mary always wanted to be a teacher and then all of a sudden I did a flight and thought – oh I like this and I took on four jobs to pay for my habit (it is a disease if you ever do it- you won’t be able to give it up).
“I had no idea where the path would leave me but it led me to teaching people to fly, which is the teacher side I wanted in an environment that I love.
“Some teachers love to be in a class room well I sat my backside in an aeroplane which is much harder to teach in – it’s noisy and bumpy but I loved every minute of it.”
Mary’s romance with flying began in 1979 when gained her Private Pilot’s license and in 1982 her Commercial Pilot license. Her calling to teach saw her become a flight instructor – gaining her instructor rating in 1983 and in 1987 she not only took on the role of Chief Flying Instructor of the Royal Aero Club of WA, but was also the first female CFI in Australia.
In 1988 she was one of the first people to be granted full Testing approval on behalf of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
With more than 10,500 flying hours in her logbooks she has a deep passion for all things aviation.
“It was my life – I got to the top of the tree in flight training, I loved it but I didn’t have very much else in my life apart from my work,” she said of her career.
“One day I was doing some work with a lady in an Aeroplane and she was pregnant. She came from a place called Kununurra and she was the operations manager for a company called Slingair (now Aviair) which do the Bungle Bungle flights and blah, blah blah – she was pregnant and was going to give it up. Off the top of her head, she said do you want a job and off the top of my head I said yeah I’ll take it and that’s how I left flying training to take up an operation managers job in Kununurra – still involved heavily in aviation but more the management side of it. I didn’t stop flying but I did teach any more.”
Mary moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2008 and lives at Pacific Paradise.
She, has not been flying, teaching or examining for some time and Shawn thought it was high time she received some recognition and enjoyed a seaplane adventure – but he didn’t tell his friend she’d end up flying the plane.
“I have had one little fly when I went back to West Australia with my ex-boss and that was lovely but that’s in an aeroplane that takes off on a bitumen runway,” she laughed.
“This is a seaplane. It’s a beautiful vintage aeroplane and it happens to take off on water. And I haven’t don’t that for??? I’ve never done that!”
But Sandy and Shawn, who met Mary a few years ago when she approached them on behalf of the Twin Waters Residence Association to see if they’d like to donate a flight as part of our Christmas Carols and Fireworks, had more than a joy flight in mind.
“Ok it’s international women’s day Shawn and myself ie Sandy would love to take you for a fly – I thought that would be nice, haven’t been in this little buzz box before, I’ll go for a fly,” Mary chortled.
“Then it dawned on me there’s more to this than meets the eye, then all of a sudden it was “we’re going to have the media there” and I thought what’s going on here?
“It’s International Women’s Day – you are a woman aren’t? and then I started to realise something was up because remember he’s a senior instructor himself.
“I get down there and I say no Shawny I’m not flying, I’m not – oh yes you are he says – this is my aircraft and you will fly it.
“So all of a sudden this ho hum I’m going for a joy ride with Paradise Seaplanes turned into o-oh he wants me to touch the controls and do stuff.
“Look I was as nervous as a cat on hot coals but once we got up – the take off was the highlight for me because I actually did it – you have to be a pilot to understand that. It’s like the journo getting the scoop of the year – oh my god I got it.
“Once I relaxed and sat in the seat rather than squeezed my bum cheeks so tight I could hardly feel my bum I got it all back – it does come back.
“I jumped out of that airplane after it landed and I was 30ft in the air still emotionally. The adrenalin the love of flying – if you have done if for a long time you just don’t lose it. If you say you’re never going to do this again – well that’s not quite the truth.”
Shawn and Sandy are now trying to convince Mary to go back to teaching.