The challenge of flying more than 7 000 miles in an open cockpit aircraft from South Africa to the United Kingdom has already been successfully done by a woman and now another is preparing for the same epic flight to commemorate the first 85 years ago.
Come November, Tracey Curtis-Taylor will take off from Cape Town International Airport in a Boeing Stearman biplane following the same flight plan as Mary Heath did in 1928.
Heath, the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in the United Kingdom, became the first of her sex to fly a small, open cockpit biplane from Cape Town to London.
November will see Curtis-Taylor commemorate Heath’s flight as well as highlight some historic firsts set by women across Africa. The organisers of the commemorative flight are hoping Curtis-Taylor will be able to meet with the first black woman to obtain pilot’s certification in the SA Air Force (SAAF). Captain Petogo Molawa is currently doing her helicopter flying at 15 Squadron C Flight based at AFB Port Elizabeth, one of four stops Curtis-Taylor will make in South Africa before heading to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and France before her final touchdown at Goodwood in England.
The other South African stops scheduled are East London, Durban and Pretoria’s Wonderboom Airport.
All told she will fly more than 7 000 miles in about 35 separate legs in her Stearman, named “Spirit of Artemis”, shipped to South Africa and re-assembled prior to departure from Cape Town International. She is expected to land at the racecourse before Christmas.
The Stearman first took to the skies in the 1930s and has a top speed of 95 mph with an operating ceiling of 10 000 feet and a range of 450 miles. The challenge posed in taking this vintage aircraft across vast stretches of Africa is one Curtis-Taylor looks forward to.
As the first female pilot based at the historic Shuttleworth collection of vintage aircraft, she is no stranger to piloting “old-timers”.