Tracey Curtis-Taylor, a female aviator who is flying her open cockpit Boeing Stearman – Sprit of Artemis – from Cape Town to Goodwood, England taught jaded scribes a lesson when she landed at the Port Elizabeth Airport on Saturday evening.
After flying a 1930?s plane across Europe in 2012, Tracey is now retracing the footsteps of pioneer aviator, Lady Mary Heath who in 1918 became the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small, open-cockpit biplane from Cape Town to London.
The Boeing Stearman was has no modern instruments and, as it is an open cockpit plane, flight plans are subject to the weather – this is patient flying at it’s best.
Curtis-Taylor is following in the footsteps of Mary Heath and on her flight will cover 7000 miles in 32 legs over 6 weeks alone in an open cockpit plane.
Her South African overnight stops will include:
Her support crew of seven, including pilots, an engineer and media crew is travelling alongside her in a Cessna Caravan – they take off after Tracey, catch up to her, do some filming and then race ahead to the next stop to set up for her landing.
The only contact that Tracey has with the ‘outside world’ is via radio – no GPS, autopilot, air stewards or comfort breaks.
The first words out of Tracey’s mouth as she brought her Boeing Stearman to a halt in slot B9 at the Port Elizabeth Airport were; “You guys live in an amazing country, I just experienced an amazing sight of whales frollicking in the water below me as I flew up your stunning coastline!” She was all smiles and most accommodating in posing for photographs – even for those jaded photographers who took full advantage of her bonhomie and thought that they had stumbled on a fashion shoot.
The Spirit of Artemis has a top speed of 95 mph, an operating ceiling of 10 000 feet and a range of 450 miles. Tracey is, where possible, flying her plane at around 200 feet above the ground in order to “experience the beauty of Africa”.
The cockpit and fuselage of Tracey’s biplane are fitted with cameras – one filming her fly and her commentary and one pointing down towards the ground to capture the achingly beautiful scenery of South Africa and Africa. Footage from these will form the basis of an exciting documentary film which will be produced on Tracey’s return for release in early 2014.
On her journey across Africa Tracey has requested to meet women who are achievers in their fields – preferably in the fields of aviation and last night she had a chat to local Air Force Helicopter pilot Phetogo Molawa.
Tracey last visited Port Elizabeth 25 years ago in, as she says; “Vastly different circumstances!” She recalls having to leave before 6:00 am to walk to the train station and recalls women helping her by placing her luggage on their heads and accompanying her on her journey.
Her credo is a simple one; “Flying has defined my life and, if it defines my death as well, then so be it”
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