Historic African bi-plane flight commences


The weather may not have played along, but female pilot Tracey Curtis-Taylor has finally commenced her solo Cape Town to UK flight in a vintage Boeing Stearman biplane.

Curtis-Taylor is recreating the 1928 flight by English aviatrix Lady Mary Heath by covering more than 7 000 miles in an open cockpit Stearman over seven weeks. Heath was the first person to fly this rout, which later became the Imperial Airways route.

After five years of intense planning and preparation, it was the fickle Cape Town weather that delayed Curtis-Taylor’s departure on Friday 1 November. A depression rounded the Cape, dropping rain and covering the route up the east coast to George in cloud.

Saturday dawned bright and Curtis-Taylor could finally commence with her long-awaited dream of flying an open cockpit biplane across Africa.

She was not, however, perturbed by having to delay her departure by a day. “Miraculously, in the last 24 hours all the anxiety has melted away,” Curtis-Taylor blogged, “I feel myself to be already at a great height. I have the dream flying machine and all that is Africa before me. It is a deeply thrilling prospect.”

Having arrived safely in Port Elizabeth, her first overnight stop, the Stearman arrived at Wings Park airfield, East London on Sunday to refuel before arriving safely at Virginia Airport, Durban.

Having completed her east coast leg of the trip, Curtis-Taylor will turn landward and is expected to arrive at Lanseria Airport, north of Johannesburg, on Monday afternoon.

All told, Curtis-Taylor will fly more than 7 000 miles in about 35 separate legs in her Stearman, named “Spirit of Artemis.” Her next stops will be Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and France before her final touchdown at Goodwood in England on 18 December.

The Boeing Stearman was built in 1942 and was purchased by Curtis-Taylor last year. It was restored by Awald Gritsch of 3G Classic Aviation in Hungary. Gritsch and the support team are accompanying the flight in a Cessna Caravan, which will land ahead of the Stearman and prepare for its arrival at each stop.