Flying to second place in international pilot challenge

Master of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots Jonathan Legat presented Amanda Deed, Theresa MacDonald, Jessica Phillips and Gail Collins with their second place award. Pictures: SUPPLIED.

By Mikayla van Loon

Four female pilots from Lilydale Flying School have been awarded second place for an internationally recognised flight challenge which they completed in December 2022.

Completing the British based Dawn to Dusk competition where they flew around Australia in a day, Amanda Deed, Gail Collins, Theresa MacDonald and Jessica Phillips came second from 15 to receive the Coventry Trophy.

The team also received medals for flying the longest distance, reaching 1905 nautical miles, or 3500 kilometres; the longest distance to be flown in the competition since 1992.

Travelling the distance to attend the award ceremony held at the Royal Air Force Club in London’s Piccadilly on 8 February, it was a night to remember for the group.

“We somewhat knew we’d get the long distance one because Australia is so much bigger than the UK,” Theresa said.

“And then they read out [the entries] in ascending order from number 15 and it got to number three so we thought either we got disqualified or we came one, two or three.”

As only one of two Australian entries in the challenge, with a woman in Queensland submitting an entry that saw her follow humpback whales off the east coast, Theresa said “we’re going to promote it now to try and get more Australians [involved]”.

The team that won was a father-daughter duo who flew around Ireland but Theresa said the extent of the challenges people completed was quite amazing.

“There was quite a vast variation. One of them had followed where the dambusters had dropped the bombs in the war and gone over to Europe,” she said.

“Another one had gone into every airfield in Kent. So there was quite a variety of submissions.”

Theresa said another interesting submission came from a married couple who decided to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary by flying in the shape of a heart and stopping for lunch where they first met.

“It has to be quite unique and I’ve already got two ideas.”

The diversity of the flights wasn’t the only clear thing in the room, with Theresa saying at least 40 per cent of the participants were female.

“I think we were the only all women’s team but there were certainly members from the British Women Pilots’ Association there. We got a great cheer from them when we came down to the podium.”

That figure, Theresa said, was incredible considering the still slow uptake of female pilots.

“Only six per cent of pilots are women which is still so small. It was about five per cent when I started and it still hasn’t really shifted that much.

“I just feel like young girls need to see more of these things out there, if they don’t see it they don’t think they can do it.”

While things are improving particularly in the Royal Australian Air Force with more support for women, Theresa said doubt often stems from school.

As young female pilots Jessica and Amanda are excelling, proving the capabilities of women in this male dominated industry.

Theresa said she hopes to complete more of the Dawn to Dusk challenges in the coming years, with plans already underway.

“Possibly for the longer one I’m thinking of I’ll go back to the same group but there’s another woman in Coldstream who first told me about this about 15 years ago.

“So she sowed the seed way back then and she’d like to do something so we’re going to do something between Victoria and South Australia and she’s already started her research.”