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Ann Courtenay Welch OBE, née Edmonds, (20 May 1917 — 5 December 2002) was a pilot who received the Gold Air Medal from Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) for her contributions to the development of four air sports - gliding, hang gliding, paragliding and microlight flying.
She was the daughter of a railway engineer and was born in London. As a child, Ann Welch kept a diary listing every aeroplane that flew over the house. She first flew with Alan Cobham in 1930. After she had acquired a motorbike to visit the local aerodrome, she learnt to fly, earning her pilot’s licence in 1934 one month after her seventeenth birthday. From an early age she excelled in drawing and painting, and was a painter of note.
She started gliding in 1937 and attended an Anglo-German Fellowship Camp at the London Gliding Club meeting Wolf Hirth and Hanna Reitsch followed by a return visit to Germany in 1938. She re-started the Surrey Gliding Club in 1938 at Redhill, Surrey becoming their Chief Flying Instructor and achieving a membership of over 100. When the Second World War broke out she enrolled in the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying many types of aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes, Blenheims and Wellingtons from the factories to their operational units. She stopped this work shortly before the birth of her first daughter.
After the war she returned to gliding and with Lorne Welch and Walter Morison (two former prisoners at Colditz Castle), she restarted the Surrey Gliding Club, eventually moving it in 1951 to Lasham Airfield. She trained many pilots and instructors while bringing up a young family, sometimes shouting instructions to a family member as she flew past in an open-cockpit glider. For twenty years she was in charge of the British Gliding Association's panel of examiners responsible for British instructor standards and training. She was an avid cross-country pilot and became a member of the British team at World Gliding Championships for many years. Flying from Lezno in Poland in 1961, she broke the British women's distance record with 528 km. Her books on aviation are still widely admired and sought after. She flew over 150 types of aircraft.
Welch was an active volunteer to the British Gliding Association as vice chairman. She also managed the British Gliding Team for twenty years, and organised competitions including the World Gliding Championships at South Cerney in 1965. Later, she was elected as delegate to the FAI's International Gliding Commission and acted as jury member at several World Gliding Championships.
For many years she and Philip Wills administered British gliding until the members felt that a change was needed. Conscious of the increasing cost of gliding and the need to involve young people, she moved away from gliding and became closely involved in the development of hang gliding and paragliding, and was founder President of the FAI's Hang Gliding Commission and its Paragliding Commission, and was a member of the FAI's Microlight Commission. She became president of the British Hang Gliding Association and when in 1991, the hang-gliders and paragliders joined forces, Welch was appointed president of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. In 1978 she was appointed the president of the British Microlight Aircraft Association.
Ann Welch was awarded the FAI Bronze Medal (1969), the Lilienthal Gliding Medal (1973) and the FAI Gold Air Medal (1980) in recognition of her devotion to the training and encouragement of young pilots. (With the Gold Medal she joined a group that included Otto Lilienthal and Frank Whittle.) In 1989 she was awarded the FAI's Pelagia Majewska Gliding Medal as an outstanding female glider pilot.
Her love of outdoor included sailing and studied the wind and tides. This was ultimately rewarded when in 1997 she was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation. She was appointed MBE in 1953 and advanced to OBE in 1966.
In 2005 the Ann Welch Award was instituted for outstanding contributions to instruction in air sports. It was first presented in 2006 at Royal Aero Club's Awards Ceremony. Also in 2006, the FAI created the Ann Welch Diploma which may be awarded each year to the pilot or crew of a microlight or paramotor who made the most meritorious flight which resulted in a world record.
She married Graham Douglas in 1939, whose family owned Redhill Aerodrome and who had lent the club the £300 needed to buy the necessary gliders and a winch. This marriage was eventually dissolved and five years later she married Lorne Welch in 1953. Lorne Welch predeceased her but she was survived by her three daughters.
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