We know that the sky’s the limit for Woldingham students, but some of them may now be seriously considering the sky as a destination following this year’s Dineen Lecture given by Jo Salter, Britain’s first female fast jet pilot. Jo told a rapt audience the story of how she became one of, then, only five women in the world flying fast jets - a journey that involved hard work and natural aptitude. Jo also pointed out that it also included several elements of being in the right place at the right time, not least because it only became legal for women to fly fast jets whilst Jo was training with the RAF, initially as an engineer. It became increasingly clear that Jo had to be highly resilient during a career in which she broke new ground for women. As well as facing prejudice at times, which she addressed by being superb at what she did, she also had to deal with some very practical issues, including flying suits designed purely with male ‘convenience’ in mind!
Jo shared a number of pieces of advice that have served her well in her career, including:
You won’t succeed if you don’t try. Jo regularly meets people who tell her they wanted to be a pilot, but when she asks them how far they got in training they admit they didn’t apply. Who knows, some of them may have been brilliant pilots – we need to try things to find out what we’re brilliant at.
Keep your options open. Whilst doing her A Levels, Jo’s favourite subject was maths and she was planning to study accountancy at university. Fortuitously, the ‘WISE bus’ (Women in Science and Engineering) visited her school and she was advised that if she studied accounting, she would be an accountant, but if she studied engineering, she could be anything she wanted to be. Which was exactly what she wanted and what she did.
It’s important to believe in yourself and you can help others believe in themselves too. When Jo’s training was coming to an end, she was expecting to take her first solo flight, but her instructor told her she wasn’t good enough. Aged 21, she felt a failure and that her life was crashing down around her. Due to budget constraints, she was only allowed two more hours of training. She was given a new instructor, who told her he had no idea why she hadn’t been allowed to go solo and that he would have let her. But he suggested they make use of the additional two hours training anyway, following which she successfully flew solo. Later, she realised how clever her instructor had been in making her believe in herself, which in turn helped her to succeed.
When asked what advice she would give to anyone applying to be an RAF pilot, Jo said she would give the same advice for any application: do your research, understand the entry criteria and prepare yourself so that you give yourself the best chance possible.
The Dineen Lecture is financed by a gift from parents, following Dr Dineen’s retirement as Headmistress of Woldingham in 1997, and organised by Woldingham Parents and Staff Association (WPSA). It was her wish that an annual lecture be delivered by a notable person whose personality and achievements can provide inspiration to the girls and, without doubt, Jo Salter did exactly that.