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'Bird in a Biplane' euphoric after 13,000-mile solo flight to Sydney

Published 09/01/2016

Tracey Curtis-Taylor at Sydney International Airport
Tracey Curtis-Taylor at Sydney International Airport

A British flyer said she was "euphoric" at completing her "huge adventure" after touching down in Sydney at the end of a 13,000-mile solo flight from Britain to Australia in a vintage open cockpit biplane.

Self-styled "Bird in a Biplane" Tracey Curtis-Taylor, 53, set off in her 1942 Boeing Stearman Spirit of Artemis aircraft from Farnborough, Hampshire, in October.

She flew across 23 countries, making 50 refuelling stops over the course of three months, and has now arrived at Sydney Airport.

She posted on Facebook: "Finished Sydney Airport! End of huge adventure, thank you everyone who supported me."

Ms Curtis-Taylor has followed in the slipstream of Amy Johnson, the pioneering British aviatrix who became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia in 1930.

Speaking to the Press Association, she said: "I'm tired, it's been a pretty intense week with all the build-up to the final arrival, I'm relieved, euphoric, it's great to be here."

She said Johnson had been a great inspiration to her throughout the journey: "You can't do this without a great sense of empathy and sympathy for what she went through, what she achieved is so brilliant.

"I just take my hat off to what she pushed herself to, right on the limits of endurance. She was on the verge of nervous exhaustion when she finished, it's an astonishing survival story, all done by a slip of a girl at the age of 26 with little flying experience.

"This generation needs to know what the pioneers achieved and how they resolved to break the records."

Ms Curtis-Taylor, originally from Stamford, Lincolnshire, but who grew up in Cumbria and now lives in London, said the highlights of her journey included flying over the Dead Sea, the deserts of Arabia, the mountains of Burma and the coastline of Thailand.

Tracey Curtis-Taylor in front of her 1942 Boeing Stearman Spirit of Artemis biplane
Tracey Curtis-Taylor in front of her 1942 Boeing Stearman Spirit of Artemis biplane

She said: "It blew me away, I feel I have been privileged to have experienced this but I haven't had the time to process it yet. I would like to sit down with a large drink and rest and reflect on what I have gone through. It's been an astonishing experience - heaven and hell."

She said the low point of the journey was battling against poor weather in eastern Europe.

She said: "We got stuck in Bucharest with pouring rain, huge winds, the airplane got filthy dirty, it was awful, terrifying. You just have to turn back, you have to weather down, there is no point pushing it, it's pretty frightening."

She added: "I just wanted to miss the English winter, that was the point of the whole trip."

Ms Curtis-Taylor said that despite having just completed the exhausting trip, she still had the drive to make further expeditions.

She said: "What I would really like to do is get back in the airplane and fly up the east coast of Australia. I wish I could keep going, I never want to land as the experience is so profound, it's addictive. I am still in expedition mode but I need to relax and decompress."

She said she would travel to New Zealand to celebrate her mother's 80th birthday before joining the Artemis in Seattle, USA, for an expedition from coast to coast of America.

Ms Curtis-Taylor said: "Why not keep going, life should be about big projects."

Her 13,000-mile route took her across Europe and the Mediterranean to Jordan, over the Arabian desert, across the Gulf of Oman to Pakistan, India and across Asia.

She recreated the essence of Johnson's era of flying with an open cockpit, stick and rudder flying with basic period instruments and a short range between landing points. In 2013, she flew 8,000 miles solo from Cape Town, South Africa, to Goodwood, West Sussex, to recreate the 1928 flight of Lady Mary Heath.

Maureen Dougherty, president of Boeing Australia and South Pacific, which sponsored the adventure, said: "Tracey's flight is a wonderful reminder of how far aviation has advanced and the role women have played since those early days of flight. Congratulations to Tracey and her support team on this remarkable achievement."

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