Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tracey Curtis-Taylor: Pilot turns flight of fancy into reality

Tracey Curtis-Taylor makes a final pit stop in Singapore on her 1942 Boeing Stearman bi-plane. She is on a solo flight from Great Britain to Australia.

SINGAPORE: Pilot Tracey Curtis-Taylor, who is flying solo across the globe in an open-cockpit vintage plane, has arrived in Singapore for a final pit stop. 

"I think a lot of people think that (I'm mad), and at times, I've also felt that. But no, this is the ultimate adventure. I'm having the time of my life," she said, speaking to Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (December 17). 

"It's still the most astonishing experience to be able to do it. It's the ecstasy of flight. And I think everybody understands and shares that idea of flight and the desire to do it (for) the three-dimensional freedom and detachment of it, and the pleasure."

The former diamond valuer would take 14 weeks to fly across 23 countries, from Britain to Australia. According to Ms Curtis-Taylor's Twitter page, she was in Penang, Malaysia before arriving in Singapore. She also passed Bagan in Myanmar and Phang Nga Bay in Phuket, Thailand.

Ms Curtis-Taylor spends about five hours a day in the skies and she told Channel NewsAsia that she is enjoying the view.

"Up over the beach at 50 feet; over the desert that's a couple of hundred feet, over the temples of Bagan, it's absolutely epic flying. You're only a couple of hundred feet above the ground," she said. 

Tracey Curtis-Taylor's plane flying past Turkey while en route to Australia. 

The 53-year-old, who would head to Sydney after refueling in Singapore, said she spent 30 years gearing up for what she called the "ultimate adventure of my life". The self-styled "Bird in a bi-plane" began her journey from Farnborough in England last October, following the footsteps of pioneering aviator Amy Johnson in 1930.

Tracey Curtis-Taylor and her 1942 Boeing Stearman bi-plane. 

Her mode of transport is called the Spirit of Artemis, which she described as “a plane with 1920s technology". The aircraft was built in 1942 during World War II, and after the war similar models were used for crop dusting. Ms Curtis-Taylor had the plane restored in 2012 for a flight to Africa. Restoration works took a year. 

Ms Curtis-Taylor revealed that the plane has much sentimental value to her.

"I’ve this intimate relationship – it’s such a marvelous machine," she said. "I nearly cry when I see it dirty or neglected, when in some of the air fields (where) there’re no facilities (for maintenance)."

Tracey Curtis-Taylor's 1942 Boeing Stearman bi-plane. 


Ms Curtis-Taylor explained that it is not easy flying a vintage plane in the modern world.

"The tail is low, the nose is high, so I have no forward visibility over the engine here," she said. "I once taxied into a helicopter on the ground, which was pretty stupid. I couldn't see straight ahead. I have to zigzag to see."

She also said the open-cockpit plane would expose her to the elements, and it could get dangerous.

"I'm terrified of thunderstorms. We've been seeing the storm on the news. It's just happened in Sydney. Hail the size of tennis balls. That would destroy the airplane," she said.

Despite these risks, Ms Curtis-Taylor does not have a parachute in her plane. "Parachutes are very heavy and bulky. And I just think that if something happens to the airplane, if I had a structural failure, that might be a case for jumping out," she said. "I wouldn't leave the airplane. I would fly the airplane to the ground. And I'm so low, you wouldn't have the time to jump out with a parachute."

Ms Curtis-Taylor will be delivering motivational speeches to various groups before heading off to finish her epic journey.

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