According to birth and marriage records, 'Zita' was actually born Elsie Kathleen Heysham in Westminster, England on 30 Aug 1907 but, for some reason, she changed her name and gave her place of birth as 'Lucerne, Switzerland'.
Father: Frederick Fernandez Nancy Heysham, mother: Ada Beatrice
prev: Bridge Hostess [whatever that is] at Grockford's Club
m. 1937 in London, Wilfred Adams Irvin (d. 1961)
prev exp: 30hrs 50min (55 hrs with dual) on Gypsy and Tiger Moths, and Moth Minor
Address in 1941: 45c Sloan Sq, London SW1
Postings: 5TFPP, 12FPP, 9FPP
Off sick from 6 Jul to 2 Aug 1942 after her flying accident in a Hurricane, and 6 Feb to 10 Mar 1943 with influenza
7 accidents, 4 her fault:
- 31-Jan-42, in Tiger Moth BB800 which turned onto its back when taking off from a snow-covered surface. 'Poor airmanship' blamed.
- 05-Jul-42, a forced landing in Hurricane I L1945 after she 'used the fuel tanks incorrectly'
- 06-Dec-42, she overshot the landing in Spitfire IIa P7628, hit a fence and the aircraft tipped onto its nose
- 30-Sep-43, while taxying, the port wing of her Wellington III DF571 struck the propeller of a parked Thunderbolt. Not her fault.
- 03-Jan-45, forced landing in Typhoon Ib EK169 after an engine problem
- 13-Apr-45, the tail wheel of her Mosquito RF763 retracted after a normal landing, due to incorrect adjustment of the lock
- 16-Apr-45, she failed to control the take-off swing of her Mosquito VI TA385, and the starboard undercarriage collapsed
Zita carried on flying after WWII; she was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the Womens' RAF Volunteer Reserve (WRAFVR) in 1949, and became the personal pilot of Vivian van Damm, the owner of the Windmill Theatre.
She flew a Proctor in the 1950, 1951 and 1952 International Challenge Trophy Air Races from Hurn Airport, near Bournemouth, to Herne Bay:
"The Windmill owner-producer-manager Vivian Van Damm will be able to see for himself how his plane Windmill Girl,"' a Proctor V piloted by Mrs. Zita Irwin, is faring at the half-way mark in the International Challenge Trophy Air Race on Saturday, September 16, as the course will take the aircraft within a few yards of his seaside home at Angmering.
Zita Irwin, the Windmill's own pilot, will be accompanied during the race by a television newsreel cameraman who will record a pilot's eye-view of the race."
Zita piloting G-AIET 'Windmill Girl', [which later became EI-AMV, damaged beyond repair 1963]
In 1956, Veronica Volkersz wrote that Zita was one of only 7 women flying commercially: - "Zita Irwin pilots the Windmill Theatre's Rapide" - and concluded that "The tragedy is that for women, commercial aviation is now - except, possibly, in Russia - a closed field."
[The others were Jackie Moggridge, Monique Rendall, Jean Bird, Suzanne Ashton, Diana Barnato-Walker and Freydis Leaf]
Richard Hoblyn tells me that "I knew her through my father & grandfather years ago. She worked for Hoblyn & King after the war and was probably the first ever female stockbroker (although not a Member); I still have her dealing books. Raymond Baxter met her when she piloted one of the air races.
My father was an executor of her estate and when she died circa 1975 I helped clear her flat in Sloane Street. I was gifted a German war medal for this which Zita took from the burnt out Reistag in 1945.
A remarkable woman. Her connections were extraordinary and she was highly regarded at Hoblyn & King especially by my grandfather."
d. 19 May 1979, London