Pilots take to the air to celebrate the legacy of pioneering female flier Evie Saunders (From The National)

TWO pilots are setting course for a landmark round-the-UK journey in honour of a flier who helped women take to the skies.

Evie Saunders achieved her pilot’s licence in 1989 at the age of 68 following a lifelong fascination with aviation.

She went on to gain yet more qualifications in both the US and UK and, while in her 70s, won a number of flying contests against younger and more experienced pilots.

Saunders, above, was honoured with the Jean Lennox Bird Trophy for her achievements in 1992 and, after falling ill in 2003, set out to purchase an aircraft to help young people follow her into the skies.

She died the following year and her gift to Tayside Aviation has since been used to help more than 260 people gain their wings.

Now Dundee-based pilots Rachel Foyle and Claire Birch will circumnavigate the UK to encourage more women into aviation. Just 12 per cent of pilots in the UK are women, with the global figure at just six per cent.

Evie’s Grand Tour aims to help change this and Foyle, 23, said: “Evie was a truly remarkable woman and we hope that our trip will keep the spirit of Evie in the skies and inspire others to realise their aviation aspirations.”

The St Andrews University graduate began training at the age of 16. She said: “For most school-leavers and women generally, becoming a pilot isn’t necessarily an obvious career choice. My grandpa gave my brother a trial lesson for his 17th birthday, and I had the opportunity to be the backseat passenger. I immediately caught the flying bug.”

Foyle is one of 15 women currently working towards a professional grade at the Dundee centre.

Birch, 35, qualified as a fixed-wing pilot there and is on course for her commercial pilot’s licence.

The Grand Tour challenge will allow her to tick off the 450-mile cross- country trip required for her training.

Beginning in Dundee, it will see the pair head south for Land’s End before heading as far north as Kirkwall then returning to their home airfield.

Birch, who began lessons at the age of 14, said: “The trip is a fantastic opportunity to enthuse, encourage and inform women about the opportunities within aviation.

“I am looking forward to visiting new airfields and embarking on a trip of a much greater magnitude than anything I have done before.”

The pair will document their journey with a dedicated blog and through social media.

Lorraine Richardson, Saunders’ niece, said: “It is really exciting and emotional for me to think that these ladies are embarking on this trip and that Evie’s dream is still making such a difference.

“My Aunt Evie would have been so thrilled and excited about the tour and full of praise for Rachel, Claire and Tayside Aviation.

“The number of scholarships created by Tayside Aviation and the Air League is fantastic and hopefully many more young women will take advantage of these opportunities and not have to wait until they are 68 to realise their dreams.”

James Watt, managing director of Tayside Aviation, said: “We are absolutely thrilled, as I’m sure Evie would have been, that Rachel and Claire are heading off on this trip in her honour. Evie’s fascinating life story perfectly complements Rachel’s and Claire’s determination and passion to attract more women into the industry, and we hope that their story kick-starts some new careers in the months ahead.”

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