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UK’s first woman to captain jumbo jet retires after final flight

Yvonne Kershaw learned to fly aged 19 and clocked up 18,000 flying hours in Boeing 747s.

The UK’s first woman to captain a jumbo jet has retired after landing at Gatwick Airport for the last time.

Virgin Atlantic pilot Yvonne Kershaw fought back tears as she described stepping off the Boeing 747 flight from Cancun, Mexico, on Wednesday morning.

The crew faced a challenging journey after a passenger was taken ill but the aircraft landed in London as planned, where it was met by an ambulance.

Mrs Kershaw, a grandmother from Petworth, West Sussex, joined the airline in 1990 and was granted command of the aircraft three years later.

The 64-year-old said many people have “preconceptions about what an airline captain should look like” and recalled that initially the main response from passengers was “surprise”.

She told the Press Association: “I suppose normally they would expect to see a silver-haired fox flying the aeroplane in command. It took a few years before people got used to seeing a woman coming out of the flight deck and being in charge.”

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Yvonne Kershaw with co-pilot Paul Singleton after landing her last Boeing 747 flight at Gatwick (Lauren Hurley/PA)

She went on: “Breaking down those barriers wasn’t easy but nobody ever said it would be. What you need is passion about your job, determination and skill.”

Mrs Kershaw said she hoped her career would encourage women to pursue their passion.

She said: “I really, really hope that it will inspire girls to consider flying. Or anything they want to do. You can do it – I’ve proved it.”

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Mrs Kershaw learned to fly aged 19 (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Mrs Kershaw learned to fly aged just 19 and after initially flying small aircraft around Europe and north Africa she gained her commercial licence and began piloting executive jets.

She worked at a UK regional airline named British Island Airways before joining Virgin Atlantic when its fleet comprised only four 747s.

“I felt very proud that I was able to do it,” she said. “It’s such an iconic aeroplane and it’s what I wanted to fly. For decades it was the largest aircraft in the world and the most loved by everybody. That’s why I joined Virgin Atlantic. For the opportunity to fly the aeroplane and be part of the Virgin family.”

Mrs Kershaw has clocked up more than 2,000 flights and 18,000 flying hours in the flight deck of the four-engine 455-seat jet.

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