Flying in the slipstream of Lady Mary Heath

In her vintage biplane, Tracey Curtis-Taylor is retracing aviation history

In the pioneering age of aviation, a handful of men rich and brave enough to take to the air set out armed with a cigarette, a smile and a jaunty white scarf. With a cheery “Chocks away”, their place in history was assured. But largely forgotten is the tale of another crack aviator who took to the skies and beat the “flyboys” at their own game.

The trailblazing Mary, Lady Heath, was, in the roaring Twenties, the first woman in Britain to gain a commercial pilot's licence, the first woman to parachute from a plane and the first pilot, male or female, to fly a light aircraft from South Africa to the UK. This weekend, another female pilot set out from Cape Town to Goodwood in Sussex to recreate Lady Heath's remarkable journey in 1928.

"It's a little bit bigger and more stable than the one Lady Heath flew but very much in the spirit – all stick and rudder stuff," Tracey Curtis-Taylor said of her vintage Boeing Stearman biplane. The 51-year-old is no stranger to long-haul travel. Although born in the UK, she spent her early childhood in Canada before moving to New Zealand in her twenties. It was here she began to fly, gaining a private licence and going on to acquire a commercial licence and instructor rating.

Ms Curtis-Taylor took off from Cape Town yesterday. Her plane, Spirit of Artemis, has a top speed of 95mph, a maximum altitude of 10,000ft, and can fly for only 450 miles at a time. While a modern jet would make the journey in a little over 12 hours, it will take Ms Curtis-Taylor six weeks and 32 stopovers.

Her route will follow Lady Heath's, taking her over a number of countries experiencing political unrest, from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, through Kenya, Uganda and Sudan to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia before turning for Sicily and arriving in the UK. She will cover around 7,000 miles.

Unlike her predecessor, Ms Curtis-Taylor said she has "basic GPS equipment on board, so [has] some navigational help... Lady Heath was using pages torn from an atlas."

The journey is being touted as a boost for Britain. Maria Miller, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, said: "The groundbreaking achievements of Lady Heath deserve recognition. I hope everyone who watches as [Curtis-Taylor] retraces the route will be inspired to visit the country that she comes from."

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ma...

Geography Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + TBA: Randstad Education Reading: Geography Teacher neede...

***Sports Graduate***

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: This role has arisen due to inc...

Business StudiesTeacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Bu...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past