14th December 1919 - 25th May 2019

Australia's youngest female pilot (1937)


Webpage by Greg Weir



 Portrait of Jean Burns at 20 years of age. (Painted by Aileen Dent)

   Photo of portrait - Greg Weir






Jean - as an infant


Jean Burns was born in Melbourne, December 1919.

Jean had another sister who was born eighteen months later however she died in infancy leaving Jean an only child.

 Her father Robert Burns was the son of a Scottish immigrant and worked in the merchant navy. He married Jean's mother in Cardiff, Wales during WW1 and they moved to Australia in January, 1919.


Jean's Father (wearing hat) and Mother seated at a family gathering... year unknown.


Jean on the day she obtained her licence at Essendon Aerodrome March 1937

(L-R) Laurie Johnson, Jean Burns, Phyllis Ryan, Joan Young, Unknown Department of Civil Aviation Examiner.


Jean joined the Junior Royal Victorian Aero Club when about fourteen and nearing seventeen started flying lessons. In early 1937 Jean obtained her pilots licence and became Australia's youngest female pilot.



Jean's main interest was always flying however a bet between fellow club pilots would change history.

Jean explains in her own words how it all came about:

 " One day at Essendon we were watching a parachute descent and one of the club pilots said he would not leave a plane even if it were on fire. I said that I would: nothing to it, just hop out, pull the ripcord and float down. He bet me a couple of hours on his account that I would not be game if he could arrange it. Arrange it he did with Felix Mueller, and I got my hours."

 Jean's historic first jump took place at Essendon Aerodrome in Melbourne, on Sunday 21st November 1937.        The height of the jump was 3200 feet.



After Jean's first jump the Department of Civil Aviation stepped in and said " You can't do that but you won't be prosecuted this time".

Then came a letter from the Department saying that Jean could continue to jump providing she followed the rules laid down, Jean doubts that there were any rules prior to that. Furthermore, they said that Jean would have to pass a test to demonstrate that she could pack a parachute.

Felix Mueller gave Jean a crash course in packing a parachute and an examiner from the Department of Civil Aviation duly arrived. Jean received a pass after her examination and from that day on was able to make jumps without the threat of prosecution.


An unknown Department of Civil Aviation inspector watches over Jean as she packs a parachute during her examination to become a licenced parachutist. Felix Mueller is the gentleman kneeling next to Jean.

Royal Aero Club of NSW, Anniversary Air Pageant

26th February 1938 (Mascot Aerodrome)

Lord Wakehurst congratulates Miss Jean Burns and Miss Esther L'Estrange at the Anniversary Air Pageant at Mascot.

  Jean Burns (top) & Freda Thompson were both from the Royal Victorian Aero Club


Jean's landing at Mascot Aerodrome in 1938 was a little rough, but the attention she received was a bit over the top considering the only injuries she suffered were a few cuts and abrasions.

Jean at home

JEAN IN 2006

 In July 2006, Jean got to meet a lady who's career she had followed most of her life but whom she had never had the opportunity to meet and that lady was Australia's first female Commercial pilot Nancy Bird.

Nancy had written to Jean back in 1943 when she was contacting women pilots throughout Australia in the hopes of getting an aircraft ferrying service going, but Jean was expecting her first child at the time, so was unavailable to assist and that was the only contact the two lady's had until July this year.

As part of this reunion Jean also got to meet Howard Morris whose father was the pilot of the DH4 which Jean leapt from on her first parachute jump.

The group then had afternoon tea at Qantas Headquarters which topped off a lovely day for all.


Jean Burns & Nancy Bird

Sydney Australia - July 2006 (Photo - G.Weir)

Jean & Nancy catch up on old times.

(Photo - G.Weir)


Nancy and Jean....

Walking down memory lane!

  (Photo - G.Weir)


Jean & Nancy with Howard Morris (Retired Qantas Capt)

Howard's father was the pilot of the DH4 which Jean leapt from on her first parachute jump at Essendon Aerodrome.

  (Photo - G.Weir)


A photograph of Jean taken in the late 1930's.



Copyright - Greg Weir 2006 -2019