Meeting Goodwood Aero Club ambassador Kate McWilliams

Kate McWilliams is the the UK's youngest commercial pilot (Photo by Jim Holden)

Kate McWilliams is the the UK's youngest commercial pilot (Photo by Jim Holden) - Credit: Jim Holden

Kate McWilliams, Goodwood Aero Club’s new ambassador, is hoping to inspire more girls to take to the skies

Becoming the UK's youngest female commercial captain at 26 led Kate McWilliams to reach out and inspire other young girls to follow their dreams And now Kate is hoping to act as a role model to kids in Sussex.

The Goodwood Aerodrome-based club relaunched last year with a new management team and Kate's appointment as its ambassador. She is the perfect example of someone working hard to turn their dream into a reality. She qualified as a commercial pilot at the tender age of 21, achieving an ambition she had held since she was a teenager growing up in Carlisle.

"When I was younger I didn't really know that becoming a pilot was an option," Kate says, adding: "I wasn't having a very good time at school because I was being picked on for being the geeky kid in the class. So my mum took me to my local Air Cadets group as she wanted me to have a community outside of school.

"And that just changed my life because I'd found somewhere that I fitted in and it really made me grow in confidence."

Kate's experience with the Air Cadets cemented her desire to fly for a living and, despite her parents' initial worries, at 19 she bypassed university in favour of training to become a pilot.

"The training takes about 18 months, but it is very intense. On some university courses you only do 12 hours of lectures per week, but we were in lectures for eight hours per day. Once you've done your exams, you are then in flight simulators for hours each day, five days per week."

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Her determination paid off - Kate got her first airline job at 21 and her love of flying has never diminished. As a qualified captain (and the UK's youngest ever, to boot) Kate now helps train new pilots into the industry. But, as only five per cent of the world's pilots are female, Kate has also made it her mission to help young girls realise that they can do it too by becoming the role model that she never had.

She says: "My job has given me the opportunity to reach out to younger generations, so I go to schools at least once a week and talk to the kids. Aviation is an industry in which there is no gender pay gap - you get paid and treated the same. The problem we have is that girls don't know that becoming a pilot is a possibility.

But by going into schools and talking to them hopefully I can be that role model and encourage them to broaden their horizons. I also like to explain that we need more female engineers and air traffic controllers too."

Describing her job as "the best in the world", Kate certainly does get to see the world from a unique perspective as well as travel to some fabulous destinations. Her current favourites are Croatia and Corsica and she had just flown in from Cyprus when Sussex Life caught up with her.

But it is the Sussex countryside she is looking forward to seeing when she gets the chance to take off from Goodwood Aerodrome.

"I only fly big planes so I'm hoping to get the chance to fly some small ones at Goodwood soon," she enthuses.

Kate was asked to become the club's ambassador after they saw her give a talk at Gatwick and she says she is excited to reach out to Sussex youth as part of her role.

"I remember going to an aerodrome when I was six and sitting in the back of a plane when my dad was having a flying lesson. That was probably one of the defining moments of my life, so I thought if I could work with Goodwood to get more kids into aviation then I might be able to help give them that defining moment too," she says.


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