15 January 2024

Riverina Rewind: When Wagga Wagga woman Wendy won her wings

| Chris Roe
Start the conversation
man and pilot shaking hands

Wagga Aero Club president Eric Condon and his star student Wendy Kelsall. Photo: Museum of the Riverina (Kelsall collection).

In November 1949, 23-year-old Wendy Kelsall became the first woman in Wagga Wagga to earn her ”wings” with an A-class pilot’s licence.

The youngest daughter of a Riverina grazier learned to fly through a “home delivery” scheme dreamt up by former RAAF pilot Eric Condon.

The Wagga Aero Club president described Wendy as an “apt” student, but her ability to get to lessons was hampered by the need to commute from her home at Broughton Brook, east of the airport at Spring Hill.

“To speed things up a little, I organised a Tiger Moth ”home delivery” service,” Mr Condon told The Sunday Herald.

“We selected a suitable paddock on a Broughton Brook property and used it as a satellite airstrip.

“On instruction days, Wendy would ride down to the paddock on her horse, where I would pick her up and fly back to Forrest Hill airport for lessons.

“Afterwards I would take her back to her home, which is 15 miles from Wagga.”

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: The Wagga swordfight of 1889

In January 1949, Wendy set a Riverina record when she flew the biplane solo from Forest Hill to Broughton Brook after just eight hours of flight training.

“Wagga Girl Flies Solo After Week’s Training,” announced The Daily Advertiser exactly 75 years ago today (14 January).

“When Miss Kelsall took up a Tiger Moth plane from Forest Hill airfield shortly before 7 o’clock last evening she had only eight hours dual flying under instruction,” the newspaper reported.

Mr Condon described his student’s achievement as “remarkable”.

Of the 120 pupils trained by the club over three years prior, he said no-one had managed to fly solo within a fortnight of beginning their training.

In fact, Mr Condon was so confident in her ability that he reckoned she was ready to fly after just seven hours but had to complete a mandated eight hours under civil aviation regulations.

Another young woman, Irene Lowe, had also taken lessons with the club after winning a scholarship in 1947; however, after completing one solo flight, it seems she gave the game away and did not progress to obtain her licence.

Ms Kelsall, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get back in the cockpit and described the flight as “a great thrill”.

“I’ve longed for years to fly and this has been my first opportunity to learn,” she said.

It seems Wendy maintained a strong sense of adventure throughout her life and eventually became a builder.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.