Having successfully flown from Cape Town to Goodwood in 2013, recreating the flight of Lady Mary Heath, aviator Tracey Curtis-Taylor has now successfully completed a new challenge! Flying in her beautifully restored open cockpit vintage biplane, she followed in the slipstream of aviation legend Amy Johnson to retrace her pioneering solo flight from Great Britain to Australia.
In 1930, Amy Johnson astounded the world with her epic journey, paving the way for women in aviation and air travel as we know it today. Modern-day pilot Tracey honoured her memory by reliving her dramatic adventures and courageous bravery, when she set off from Goodwood, UK, on 1 October, to begin her own 20,931 km (13,000 miles) adventure.
She landed in Sydney, Australia on 9 January 2016, having recreated the essence of the period throughout her journey; open cockpit, stick and rudder flying with basic period instruments and a short range between landing points, involving frequent refuelling stops in some of the most remote parts of the world.
Tracey replicated Amy’s route where possible, crossing Europe and the Mediterranean to Jordan, over the Arabian Desert, across the Gulf of Oman to Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, before arriving in Sydney.
Tracey may have flown a similar plane to Amy Johnson’s in 1930, but one thing that has changed beyond recognition is today’s communications technology.
Throughout the adventure, she was able to rely on Inmarsat’s connectivity to share the journey with her fans around the world via regular updates on the official interactive website and social media.
Tracey was also shadowed by a small support crew comprising a pilot and cameraman, who travelled behind her in a light modern aircraft, to record the epic flight across three continents.
There are few period pictures and movie records of the early flights of the 1920 and 30s, so filming her journey will not only help keep history alive but footage also will be used to educate a new generation of aviation enthusiasts. In this way Tracey hopes to provide young people with an enthralling example of adventure that reflects the great achievements of our pioneering forebears.
Footage from the cameraman, as well as from the cockpit and wings of Tracey’s biplane, has captured stunning shots of the scenery, the challenges and moments of high emotion. This will now be pieced together in a documentary made by Leopard Films and commissioned by National Geographic, to pay homage to Amy Johnson.
Because Inmarsat’s satellite network is global it can support communication efforts, no matter how remote the location. Each time the plane landed all the team needed to do was connect a laptop to the highly compact and lightweight BGAN Explorer 710 terminal, supplied by Cobham SATCOM, to receive simultaneous voice and broadband services, within a matter of minutes.
Tracy made the historic journey in The Spirit of Artemis, a Boeing Stearman biplane designed in the 1930s. It has a top speed of 95mph, an operating altitude of only 10,000 feet and a range of just 450 miles.
Couple that with being exposed to the elements in an open cockpit, this journey represented an incredible physical and logistical challenge. Just as well Tracey Curtis-Taylor was well prepared.
She has been flying for many years; taking her first lesson at the age 16 and learning to fly in New Zealand after emigrating there in her early twenties. Later Tracey returned to the UK and became a commercial pilot and a flying instructor.
But her real passion was for vintage aircraft and warbirds. In 1997 she helped organise Duxford’s Flying Legends air shows and later became the first female pilot to be based at the historic Shuttleworth Collection, at Biggleswade in Bedfordshire.
Today she lives in Cambridge, UK, working predominantly with historic aviation and air show organisation.
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