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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Leebold, Nancy Lorna (1915–1982)

by Sylvia Marchant

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Nancy Lorna Leebold (1915-1982), pilot and flying instructor, was born on 2 November 1915 at Mile End, South Australia, second child of John Eric Horner Ellis, electrical engineer, and his wife Emilene May, née Webber, both born in South Australia.  She was educated at Cleveland Street Girls’ Intermediate High School in Sydney, where her family had settled, and then worked for her father in his garage.

Nancy’s first love was music but she abandoned that to work in the technical department of De Havilland Aircraft Pty Ltd.  She learned to fly at Mascot airfield and gained her private pilot’s licence (No.4060) in February 1942.  Though accepted for the Air Transport Auxiliary in Britain, she was 'manpowered' by the Australian government.  She spent the rest of the war in a pickle factory, designing machinery, but made use of her pilot’s licence as a volunteer, towing a target for air gunners.  In the evenings she taught Morse code to trainees for sea and air service.

After Ellis gained her commercial pilot’s licence in January 1946, her first job was ferrying old air force planes.  In 1948 she qualified as a flying instructor and two years later as a gliding instructor.  The first woman in Australia licensed to fly heavy aircraft, she flew the Lockheed Lodestar for Air Cargo Pty Ltd in the 'wool lift' during the floods of 1950.  She was appointed chief flying instructor at Dubbo Aero Club in 1952 and next year was awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation medal.

In 1954 the Ninety-Nines, an international organisation of women pilots, granted Ellis an Amelia Earhart memorial scholarship, which she used for study in the United States of America and England.  She married Arthur Leebold, a sales manager and fellow pilot, on 19 February 1955 at the parish church of St Paul, Onslow Square, London; they had no children.  Accompanied by her husband, she flew a single-engine Miles Messenger aeroplane back to Australia after their wedding.  The Australian Women Pilots’ Association gave her the Evelyn Follett award for the year’s most worthy flying performance.  She was a foundation member (1950), treasurer (1950-52) and president (1955-56) of AWPA.

Leebold spent two years working for Rolls Royce of Australia Pty Ltd on aeroplane engines and toured New Zealand on an aerial agricultural study.  In 1959 she flew a jet aircraft in the USA, the first Australian woman to do so.  Back in Australia, she ran her own business, Avmar Pty Ltd, which imported aircraft and marine accessories and undertook charters.  A fellow (1965) of the Australian Institute of Navigation, in 1967 she became its first woman president.  That year she was appointed MBE.

A tall, slim, dark-haired and good-looking woman, usually dressed in smart slacks, Mrs Leebold had a vivacious manner.  She died of Alzheimer’s disease on 13 July 1982 at Waterfall, Sydney, and was cremated.  Her husband, who survived her, had said that she was an engineer at heart with a childlike curiosity, particularly about the sea and the sky.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Richardson (comp), Australian Women Pilots’ Association, 1971
  • S. Mann, The Girls Were Up There Too, 1986
  • N. Parnell and T. Boughton, Flypast, 1988
  • Newsletter (Austn Women Pilots’ Association), no 40, 1961, p 9
  • Flyer: Official Journal of the Australian Aviation Museum, vol 2, no 1, 2002, p 26
  • private information

Citation details

Sylvia Marchant, 'Leebold, Nancy Lorna (1915–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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