Cape Town to UK – in a vintage open-cockpit biplane

  • Tracey Curtis-Taylor clambers into the cockpit of her restored 1942 Boeing Stearman open-cockpit biplane at the beginning of her epic 11 000 km flight that commemorates Lady May Heath’s historic solo 1928 flight from Cape Town to England.
  • Tracey Curtis-Taylor has been flying classic war-birds for the last 25 years. In 1997 she became the first female pilot to be based at the historic Shuttleworth Collection, at Biggleswade in Bedfordshire.
Date:5 November 2013 Author: Sean Woods Tags:, ,

If you happen to hear the deep rumble of an old-school radial engine over the next few days or so, stop whatever you’re doing and look up. Chances are, Tracey Curtis-Taylor – in her restored 1942 Boeing Stearman open-cockpit biplane – will be appearing over the horizon not far behind to give you a delightful glimpse into a slice of aviation history. 

This intrepid female flyer has just embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. She’s busy retracing largely-forgotten female aviation pioneer Lady May Heath’s historic 1928 flight. The achievement made Lady Heath the first person to fly solo from Cape Town to England in a small open-cockpit aircraft – no mean feat, even by today’s standards. It was also something veteran classic war-bird pilot Curtis-Taylor considered well worth emulating. “Lady Heath was an incredible woman and has always been a huge inspiration to me, I believe she deserves to be remembered more than she is.” 

Like Lady Heath, Curtis-Taylor (who has just left Cape Town and arrived in Port Elizabeth) will be following the coast up to Durban before heading inland to Gauteng. She’ll then pass through Zimbabwe and head north until hitting Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Once there, she’ll follow the coast west to Tunisia, then turn for Sicily and home. In all, it’s an epic journey covering about 11 000 km, broken into 35 legs that should hopefully take her six weeks to accomplish.

Doing it in true classic style, Curtis-Taylor isn’t flying with any modern conveniences such as GPS or autopilot to help make her life easier. And, as she’s in an open cockpit with only simple instrumentation, flying is very much dependent on the weather. Her only modern concession is a radio, allowing her to remain in contact with the ground and her support crew flying alongside her in a Cessna Caravan.

Her Boeing Stearman, named the Spirit of Artemis, has a top speed of 150 km/h, operating ceiling of 3 000 metres and a range of 720 km. It’s also kitted out with a number of GoPro action cameras to capture footage of her adventure for the documentary that’ll be compiled once she’s home. It’s scheduled for release in early 2014.

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