Anne Lewis - A remarkable aviator

Date published

15 Nov 2018

Anne Lewis was the first female pilot to obtain her commercial licence in WA and first to fly for the Australian Aerial Medical Service, later to become the RFDS.

Graphic: Isla & Anne

It was an honor to have aviation pioneer Anne Lewis grace our Jandakot base last week as we welcomed our newest PC-12 'Isla' to the fleet.

With 8,000 flying hours to her name, Anne now prefers to see the world from a passenger seat. (Or perhaps secretly she’d prefer to be in the pilot’s seat). 

At the age of 18 (1944) she joined the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) and spent two years as an aircraft electrician. With a
father who previously had flown with the Australian Flying Corps in WW1, and a brother who was a pilot, Anne was also intent on obtaining her own license.

Upon her discharge from the WRAAF, Anne trained in a Tiger Moth.  

“Being fully aerobatic, they were a delight to fly, and being alone with the wind in your face, completely detached from the earth, it was always an exhilarating experience”, tells Anne.

anne & pilot

Before deciding to train for her Commercial License, Anne built up her hours flying in aerobatic competitions with the Royal Victorian Aero Club. In 1949 she abandoned her studies in Melbourne and left for Western Australia where she became the first commercially licensed female pilot. By then, she had seven different types of aircraft on her licence. 

Anne worked for Goldfields Airways, a charter company established by her father and based in Kalgoorlie. It was here that Anne spent some time being on call for the Australian Aerial Medical Service, the original name for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Anne distinctly remembers her first flight for the service. The patient was picked up from the remote township of Laverton and taken to Kalgoorlie whilst suffering an impending breach birth.

Anne & Pilots

In 1950, Anne joined the RAF in the United Kingdom. Wanting to help with the Korean war effort, Anne was unable to fly with the RAAF asthere were no female pilots at that time. After three years with the RAF, Anne joined Skyways, one of the largest charter companies in Europe, flying around the world with a fleet of some 28 aircraft. Anne spent 10 years, visiting over 100 countries, in a very male dominated profession. Flying an Avro York, a four-engine aircraft derived from the Lancaster Bomber of Dambuster fame, and with four Merlin engines, the aircraft could carry up to 56 passengers. During her years with Skyways, she flew as far north as Iceland, south to Adelaide, east to Tokyo and west to Jamaica.

Pilot Officer Lewis (the highest rank available to women at the time) was selected to represent WRAF women pilots in 1953 at the Royal Review of the RAF in Hampshire, where she was presented to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. 

After a reflective moment in Istanbul, Anne left Skyways and travelled north to the Hebrides. However by 1963, the cold weather became too much and Anne returned to Australia to an office job in Western Australia, where she remained until 1984 before retiring to Denmark on the South West Coast. Whilst visiting her niece in Burnie, in 2007, Anne made the decision to buy an apartment on the 5th floor of a new building with impressive views of Bass Strait, and frankly, I can’t imagine Anne living anywhere, but in the air. We wish her good health and happiness into the future.