It looks terribly glamorous, but she’s ready to dirty her hands. Exciting certainly and dangerous definitely, Tracey Curtis- Taylor is attempting to become only the second ever female to fly single-handedly from UK to Australia. While stopping over in Dubai, she tells Yasmeen Maqbool why she is recreating Amy Johnson’s 1930 pioneering solo flight in an open cockpit aircraft
Tracey Curtis-Taylor is an aviator in the old fashioned sense of the word and a pilot with an inspired sense of adventure. She is an exceptional self-starter and can speak with eloquence and humour on how she turned her passion for old aeroplanes and flying the world into reality. She makes one believe in the conviction of the maverick she knows herself to be.
Her open-cockpit biplane flight is the realisation of something beyond a dream. It encompasses great adventure and daring in some of the most spectacularly beautiful and dangerous parts of the world today.
Self-styled “Bird in a Biplane” Tracey Curtis-Taylor, 53, has set off in her 1942 Boeing Stearman Spirit of Artemis aircraft from Farnborough, Hampshire, England.
She is flying across 23 countries, making 50 refueling stops over the next 14 weeks, and only use the basic flying instruments that were used 70 years ago, before finally arriving in Sydney in early 2016.
Now, 85 years on, Tracey is attempting to recreate the same 13,000 mile journey in a plane that’s almost as old as Amy’s!
OLD IS GOLD
“I love handling old planes: The old handstitched leather seats, open cockpit, joystick and pedals, truly bring out what real flying is all about,” she says.
Tracey has mapped her route across Europe and the Mediterranean to Jordan, over the Arabian Desert, across the Gulf of Oman to Pakistan, India and across Asia.
A small support crew travels in a light modern aircraft to record her journey to Australia, and day to day news is being posted on an interactive website.
Along the way she may have to battle tropical thunderstorms, mechanical gremlins and the threat of having to land in hostile terrain, she understands.
But she is not unfamiliar with this form of flying. In 2013, she flew 8,000 miles solo from Cape Town to Goodwood, West Sussex, to recreate the 1928 flight of Lady Mary Heath.
DESTINED FOR THE WINGS
“But this is a journey that was destined,” says Tracey, all convinced that this is what she was born to do.
Raised in Canada and surrounded by magnificent scenery, Tracey naturally took to adventure, so it was no surprise to her parents when she developed a passion for flight, having her first flying lesson aged 16.
She returned to England with her family in the 70’s but the ‘call of the wild’ and an ongoing fascination with Africa made Tracey cut the rope on her conventional life. She went to South Africa in 1982 where she worked for several months before returning to the UK overland in a Bedford truck – a journey that took five months camping through savannah, jungle and desert.
Shortly after her return Tracey migrated to New Zealand and began flying in earnest. She gained her private pilot’s licence, commercial licence and an instructor rating and, unusual for a woman, was trained by military pilots to fly World War II aeroplanes with the New Zealand Warbird Association.
In tandem with her love for flying, Tracey’s interest inclined towards geology, landscape and imagery. She pursued her second career in aerial photography and mapping, which assisted her in her future flying pursuits.
Tracey’s aeroplanes – a Boeing Stearman and a Ryan Recruit – are now based at Goodwood in West Sussex. When not flying, her other interests include gemmology and geography (she is a Fellow of the British Gemmological Association and the Royal Geographical Society).
Alongside pursuing her interests in flying, adventures and inspirational speaking, Tracey and Bird in a Biplane Ltd (BIAB) are committed as part of their work to support a structured outreach programme to support related causes and organisations. This support ranges from raising awareness of these causes and organisations through flying and speaking engagements, their inclusion in BIAB’s media activities, and through personal appearances and advocacy.
The Six causes embraced by BIAB’s outreach programme include:
Historic aviation – Where flying of vintage aeroplanes acts both as a celebration and testament to the early pioneers of military aviation in the UK, whose activities in engineering, flying and innovation have been a major influence in worldwide aviation today.
Services charities – Tracey’s work acts as a remembrance and support for the families of those whose lives have been sacrificed or livelihoods affected through their military service in association with the Royal Air Force.
Education and young people – Where the experience of flying and all its related activities including engineering, can be both an education and an inspiration for young people today.
Help for the disabled – Tracey and BIAB seek to make use of her flying to raise awareness of the challenges faced by disabled people of all ages around the world, and to provide practical support through sharing experiences.
Women in aviation – Through honouring earlier women pioneers in aviation, and working with her contemporaries, Tracey actively promotes the involvement of women in all aspects of aviation including flying, engineering, training and safety.
The natural world – In addition to her early year adventures, Tracey and BIAB are now engaged on flying around the world between 2013 and 2016, providing a rare appreciation of the natural world from the air, at low level. Tracey and BIAB embrace support for conservation of the environment.