Vintage Biplanes to Take High-Risk Journey Across Africa
A dozen biplanes from the 1920s and 1930s will fly 8,000 miles from Crete to Cape Town next month in a vintage aviation rally that harkens back to the early days of air travel. The pilots will fly along the Nile from Cairo to Khartoum, past the highlands of Ethiopia, down through East Africa past Mount Kilimanjaro, over Victoria Falls, and will end up in South Africa.
“The aircraft are going to be flying hot, high, and they’re going to be struggling… So are the pilots,” said “Vintage Air Rally” (VAR) organizer Sam Rutherford under blue skies at England’s Brighton City Airport. “There’s no autopilot, there are no automatic systems, it’s all hand flying, with very little protection from the elements—sun, wind, dust, the oil being sprayed out of the engine up front whilst it’s still turning. It’s all full on.”
The group makes up the largest number of vintage biplanes to attempt this journey across Africa. Teams from a dozen countries including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, South Africa, and the United States are to take off from the Greek island of Crete on November 12, touching down in Cape Town on December 17 after 35 days and a journey of some 8,000 miles. It is the first aviation rally to be granted permission to land at Egypt’s Giza pyramids in 50 years, and will put on Sudan’s first air show, Rutherford said.
There is a genuine risk of engine failure: “They’re all single engine aircraft, there isn’t a spare one on another wing.” Rutherford noted this isn’t necessarily a death sentence: “But on the positive side, the aircraft fly relatively slowly, and indeed they force land very, very slowly. So it only needs a small patch of land, a little bit of road, even a football pitch, to safely get the aircraft on the ground.”
With his green bomber jacket, windswept hair, and sun-crinkled eyes, Pedro Langdon looks as if he has stepped out of the 1920s himself. During the rally, the Canadian-American will be flying his 1928 Travel Air 4000, a commercially built plane with a 220 horsepower, seven-cylinder engine. “For me, it’s a whole other world up there, a way to become more present in the moment, it’s an exhilarating experience,” he said after a test flight above the white cliffs of southern England.
The rally is working with the charity BirdLife International to raise awareness about the plight of the African vulture, with seven out of its 11 species currently on the edge of extinction. Each pilot is matching themselves to an endangered vulture, and each landing en route will highlight the issue. —AFP/Relaxnews
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