A PIONEER of the aviation world and one of last surviving female pilots of the Second World War has died aged 101.

Mary Ellis, who was born in Langley near Witney, was among the first women to take to the skies in Spitfires and heavy bombers.

The trailblazer was a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary, where female pilots were affectionately known as the 'ATA-girls'.

During her service with the ATA, which employed civilians to deliver aircraft from factories to airfields, Mrs Ellis flew more than 1,000 aircraft, including more than 400 Spitfires.

After the war she moved to the Isle of Wight where she managed Sandown Airport.

Over the past decade, Mrs Ellis and her fellow remaining Spitfire Women, finally achieved proper recognition of their work and were bestowed various honours.

Mrs Ellis (then Wilkins) was born into a farming family in Leafield, West Oxfordshire, on February 2, 1917. Her parents were Charles and Ellen Wilkins.

She grew up close to two RAF bases in Bicester and Port Meadow, and near what is now the air force's largest base, RAF Brize Norton.

Mrs Ellis, who was educated at Burford High School, described being interested in aeroplanes since she was "knee high to a duck".

Her passion only grew when her father paid a flying circus to take up in a de Havilland Moth when she was just eight.

The experience "sealed her fate forever", leading her to take flying lessons at Witney airfield.

In 1940, two years after the Second World War broke out, the ATA began allowing qualified women pilots to join its ranks.

Her experience and licence to fly made her an ideal candidate and she joined the ATA-girls in the October of 1941.

Mrs Ellis started out flying light aircraft but quickly moved onto larger planes - many of which are now regarded as icons of military aviation.

She took her first flight in a Spitfire while based at the all-female ATA pool in Hamble, near the Supermarine factory at Southampton.

Mrs Ellis said it took only a few seconds for her to feel "completely at home" in the "beautiful aircraft".

She described being in "heaven" before she had even taken off and noted the day as a significant event - one that imbued her life with "adrenaline and purpose".

The pilot, who described the Spitfire as a 'lady's aircraft', went on to deliver more than 400 of the classic fighter planes.

As war casualties rose and the production of planes increased, the work of Mrs Ellis and the rest of the ATA-girls took them all over the country.

The missions were, in her own words, "exhilarating" but sometimes "very dangerous".

On one occasion, while flying over Bournemouth, her plane was shot at in a case of suspected friendly fire.

At the conclusion of another flight, in heavy fog, Mrs Ellis almost crashed into another Spitfire which was landing on the same runway in the opposite direction.

She also had to make an emergency landing during one flight after the undercarriage of her Spitfire jammed.

Nearly one in 10 of the ATA's 168 female members were killed during the war,

Mrs Ellis was one of six remaining women serving in the ATA when it was disbanded at the end of 1945.

She continued, briefly, to serve the RAF as one of three women taken on to fly the then new Meteor jet fighter.

During her time with the ATA-girls, she flew 63 Spitfires into RAF Brize Norton.

Mrs Ellis flew a grand total of 76 different types of aircraft which, as well as Spitfires, included 47 Wellington Bombers.

After leaving the air force she moved to the Isle of Wight to manage Sandown Airport from 1950 to 1970.

In 1961, she married fellow pilot Don Ellis, who she lived with by the runway of the airport until his death in 2009.

She continued to live in the marital home and remained active, still driving herself around up until she was 101.

Until relatively recently, the contribution the Spitfire Women had made during the Second World War had been largely overlooked.

But in later life she and the remaining ATA-girls achieved a celebrity status.

The shift came when then Prime Minister Gordon Brown honours them with a commemorative badge 10 years ago.

Mrs Ellis and others became regular features at air shows and commemorative events.

In 2017, a plaque dedicated to Mrs Ellis and her close friend, fellow ATA-girl Molly Rose, who had died the previous year, was unveiled at RAF Brize Norton.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail at the time, Mrs Ellis said of year years as a pilot: “That was life, it was marvellous.

"The four or five years I did, it was great, it was nice to help the country and the King as it was back then."

Since Mrs Ellis's death on July 24, tributes have poured in from an array of high-profile public figures, from RAF leaders to the Prime Minister.

Theresa May said: "As an Air Transport Auxiliary veteran, Mary Ellis was truly a pioneering female aviator. Meeting her to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force was an honour.

“She was an inspiration to so many. My thoughts are with her many friends and family at this time.”