Trip to USA for 9-year-old flying fanatic Ellie after invite from astronaut
A NINE-year-old girl fascinated with flying has been invited to fly planes in America by the man who flew James May to the edge of space.
Monkleigh Primary School pupil Ellie Carter is set to visit Major John Cabigas, who took James May out of the Earth's atmosphere in James May At The Edge Of Space, at the end of this month.
She won the hearts of several American pilots when she met them at RAF Fairford in March.
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The story starts four years ago, when Ellie was just five.
Dad Neil said Ellie came home from school one day and saw an advert for an air show at RNAS Yeovilton.
He said: "She asked to go, which we thought was a bit strange because no one else in the family has an interest in planes. But we went, Ellie really enjoyed it and it ballooned from there."
Ellie started spending her free time watching YouTube videos of people flying and reading aviation magazines and when possible got mum Lorna and dad Neil to take her to air shows.
Ellie soon picked a favourite aircraft, the Lockheed U2 spy plane, and last year wrote to the organisers of an air show at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire to ask if they could arrange for a U2 to be there.
But in her enthusiasm Ellie only gave her name, age and the fact she lived in Devon, leading to an international "hunt" for the youngster after her letter found its way to United States Air Force pilots at Beale Air Force Base in California, via the Pentagon.
Members of the USAF were so taken by the letter they arranged for Ellie to visit a US airbase in the UK and be shown around the aircraft.
Ellie was also given the chance to "land" the plane, talking the pilot down from a chase car, running along the runway behind the plane at 120mph, and look around the cockpit.
And after meeting the crew Ellie left them so impressed she has had her picture put on the heritage wall at Beale airbase and stays in touch with several U2 pilots.
One of whom is Major Cabigas, who arranged for Ellie to start taking flying lessons with a friend of his.
Ellie now regularly travels to Wiltshire, where she flies with Martin Kellett, an experienced pilot who teaches stunt flying and runs his own test pilot school.
"It's amazing to see her when she jumps in the plane," said Neil. "She goes from being 9 to being 20."
Ellie, who dreams of one day being a U2 pilot, said her school friends were jealous of her exciting weekends in the skies.
"When I go into school on Monday, my friends come running over and ask what I've done," she said. "So I tell them and then they're jealous and don't believe me."
But one person who can testify to it all being true is mum, Lorna, who often finds herself in the back of the aircraft with a video camera.
She saod: "Last time I went up, I was terrified with her doing wing over turns, which she found hilarious."
Ellie will be doing more of the same later this year when she and her family travel to the USA.
She said: "All the pilots say they want me to fly their planes so I'll have a busy week."
Ellie is not the only family member who could one day fly a U2 spy plane. Her brother Caelin, 7, would like to fly too, and also harbours dreams of becoming a rugby player.