Tribute to one of the first female commercial pilots

Jo Collins
Jo Collins

One of the world’s first female commercial pilots has died aged 93, after a lifetime of adventure and travel.

Jo Collins, who lived in Haynes, was eager to learn to fly as a young girl and took to the skies after the Second World War, at a time when a career as a pilot was not considered an option for women.

Her son, Steve Collins, said: “She was born in Tientsin, in China, in 1921, where her father was part of the British Consulate.

“She could hardly speak any English and was sent to boarding school in England when she was six. Her parents were very Victorian and she was bought up by her Chinese amah, so it was like being sent away from her mother.”

During the Second World War, Jo rose to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major in the army, and was responsible for testing shells.

“But,” said Steve, “she got this bug about flying. She was incredibly determined and learnt to fly Gypsy Moth bi-planes as a private pupil.

“That’s how she met my father. Bernard Collins was a pilot and instructor, and taught her how to fly by instruments and night flying.”

Once Jo had gained her commercial licence in the 1950s, the couple lived in Norfolk. She began flying for Air Anglia.

One of Steve’s early memories was being flown to Clacton with his brother, Peter, then sent off into the amusement park while his mother took people on joy flights.

After the family moved to Bedfordshire, Jo worked with the Girls Venture Corps.

Steve said: “My mother introduced thousands of young women to flying, empowering them to understand a career as a pilot was an option open to them. She started numerous careers in aviation.

“In her latter years she worked for Aerofilms, an aerial photography company, but she was always involved with the community, taught swimming and supported the elderly and infirm.”

Jo also found time to travel the world. In her 80s she made a solo trip hitchhiking in Africa, staying with villagers in Lesotho, exploring India by train and sailing with Steve in the Caribbean.

Steve said: “She had incredible spirit, whether it be taking up marathon running in her 60s, or making her first parachute jump in her 70s.

“She was much loved, by us and by her neighbours. More than 100 people came to her funeral to pay their respects.”

Jo Collins died peacefully on February 8, 2015. Her funeral was held last week.