In 1928, Mary Heath – the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain, made front page news around the world as the first pilot, male or female, to fly solo a small, open-cockpit biplane from Cape Town to London.
In November 2013 to commemorate Lady Heath’s flight, pilot Tracey Curtis-Taylor will embark on a journey to fly her own open-cockpit Boeing Stearman biplane from Cape Town to Goodwood.
Flying in an open cockpit, exposed to the elements, is not for the faint-hearted, and the flight represents a formidable
physical and logistical challenge – in a plane designed in the 1930’s, with a top speed of 95 mph, an operating ceiling of 10,000 feet and a range of only 450 miles. But this sort of extreme flying is what Curtis-Taylor, the first female pilot based at the historic Shuttleworth collection of vintage aircraft, has been doing all her life.
Largely forgotten today, Mary Heath was for a few years at the end of the 1920’s one of the most famous women in the world, whose life was a succession of pioneering firsts.
Having spent two years as a dispatch rider and an ambulance driver during the First World War, Heath pioneered women’s athletics in Britain (setting records in the javelin and the high jump in the process) and helped introduce women’s track and field to the Olympics.
Switching her attention to flying, she became the first woman in Britain to receive a commercial pilot’s licence; the first woman in the world to parachute from a plane and to become an airline pilot; and, in 1928, the first person male or female to fly solo from South Africa to the UK.
For more information on this incredible story, visit the official Cape Town to Goodwood website: