Tag Archives: Solo Flight

16 January 1929: Mary, Lady Bailey, DBE

The Honorable Mary Bailey, DBE. (Monash University)
The Honorable Mary Bailey, DBE. (Monash University)

16 January 1929: After a 10-month, 18,000-mile (29,000-kilometer) solo flight from Croydon Aerodrome, London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, Mary, Lady Bailey, arrived back at the Stag Lane Aerodrome at Edgeware, London, flying a de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBTG.

A contemporary newspaper reported the event:

LADY BAILEY’S FLIGHT.

(British Official Wireless.)

LONDON, Jan. 16.

     Lady Bailey landed at Croydon this afternoon in her De Havilland Moth aeroplane, thus completing a flight from London to Capetown and back. She was greeted at Croydon by a large and cheering crowd.

Lady Bailey is the first woman to fly from London to Capetown and back. She has made the longest flight ever accomplished by a woman, and her 18,000 miles journey is the longest solo flight by either a man or a woman. She is the first woman to have flown over the Congo and the Sahara.

The Royal Aeronautical Society, in congratulating Lady Bailey, pays tribute to her as one of the gallant pioneers of Aeronautics.

The Sydney Morning Herald, No. 28,405. Friday, 18 January 1929, Page 13, Column 1.

A contemporary cigarette card with an illustration of Lady Bailey's DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBTG. (Monash University)
A contemporary cigarette card with an illustration of Lady Bailey’s DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBTG. (Monash University)

Flight offered the following commentary:

A Great Little Lady

Exactly how many miles she has covered during her long flight is difficult to estimate; nor is this necessary for a full appreciation of the merits of Lady Bailey’s flight from London through Africa to the Cape, around Africa and home again. The general press has made much of the fact that Lady Bailey’s flight is the longest ever accomplished by a woman, and the longest solo flight ever undertaken, thus establishing two “records.” To us that is of very minor importance. What matters is that an Englishwoman should have chosen to see Africa from the air, and should have been prepared to rely entirely on her own resourcefulness in making the tour. Everyone who knows Lady Bailey at all well realises that personal “advertisement” is the last thing she would desire; she is the most modest and unassuming of women. But her great achievement must unavoidably bring her into the “limelight.” From her point of view the whole thing resolved itself into this: She wanted to tour Africa; she was already a private owner-pilot. What more natural, then, than that she should make the tour by air? Only those who have a fairly good knowledge of Africa, with its variety of country and climate, can realise the sort of task Lady Bailey set herself. That she should have completed the tour, as far as Paris, there to be held up by fogs, is but the irony of fate, and is an experience which has befallen many air travellers. Her great flight was in any case a tour and not a spectacular “stunt” flight intended to break records, so we should not let the delay on the final stage be regarded as other than one of many incidents on a tour that must have been full of surprises and disappointments. Through tropical heat, in rain or snow, across mountains, deserts and seas, Lady Bailey carried on with a quiet determination which is, we like to think, a characteristic of our race, and her de Havilland “Moth” and “Cirrus” engine did not let her down. England is proud of the trio and its achievements.

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1046. (No. 2. Vol. XXI.) 10 January 1929, at Page 20.

The Royal Aero Club awarded its Britannia Trophy for 1929 to Lady Bailey for the “most meritorious flight of the year.”

Mary (née Westenra), Lady Bailey, 1 September 1911. (Bassano Ltd., Royal Photographers. © National Portrait Gallery, London)
Mary (née Westenra), Lady Bailey, 1 September 1911. (Bassano Ltd., Royal Photographers. © National Portrait Gallery, London)

Lady Bailey was born Mary Westenra, daughter of the 5th Baron Rossmore. She married Sir Abe Bailey at the age of 20.

The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.
The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.

Soon after becoming a licensed pilot in early 1927, she flew across the Irish Sea, the first woman to do so. She set a world record altitude, 5,268 meters (17,283 feet), 5 July 1927. She set several long distance solo flight records, including an 8,000-mile flight from Croydon, South London to Cape Town, South Africa with a DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBSF, and an 10,000-mile return flight made with another DH.60X (after G-EBSF was damaged). These were the longest solo flight and the longest flight by a woman to that time.

Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)
Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)

Lady Bailey was twice awarded the Harmon Trophy (1927, 1928). In 1930, she was created Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. During World War II, The Hon. Dame Mary Bailey, DBE, served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force with the rank Section Officer, equivalent to a Royal Air Force sergeant.

Lady Mary died 29 July 1960 at the age of 70.

G-EBTG (c/n 469) was a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth which had been sold to Lady Bailey by Commander Lionel Mansfield Robinson of Nairobi, Kenya, as a replacement for her own Moth, G-EBSF, which had been damaged at Tabora, Tanganyika, 4 October 1928.

G-EBTG was reconditioned by de Havilland’s and a more powerful engine was installed. The airplane changed hand several times, and was written off as damaged beyond repair after a collision with a furniture van in 1938.

The de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth was a two-place, single-engine light biplane with a wooden airframe which was covered with plywood, with sheet metal panels around the engine. The wings and tail surfaces were fabric-covered, and the wings could be folded to fit inside a small hangar. The “X” in the type designation indicates that the airplane has a split-axle main landing gear, which forms an X when seen from the front of the airplane.

The DH.60X Cirrus II Moth was 23 feet, 11 inches (7.290 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet (9.144 meters). Its height was 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 920 pounds (417 kilograms) and gross weight of 1,750 pounds (794 kilograms).

The Cirrus II Moth was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 304.66-cubic-inch-displacement (4.993 liter) A.D.C. Cirrus Mark II four-cylinder vertical inline engine. This was a right-hand tractor, direct-drive, overhead-valve engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.9:1. It had a normal power rating of 75 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. and a maximum power rating of 80 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. The Cirrus Mk.II was 3 feet, 9.3 inches (1.151 meters) long, 1 foot, 7 inches wide (0.483 meters) and 2 feet, 11.6 inches (0.904 meters) high. It weighed 280 pounds (127 kilograms).

The DH.60X Cirrus II Moth had a cruise speed of 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 14,500 feet (4,420 meters). The maximum range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).

The de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., built 32 of the DH.60 Cirrus II Moth variant. Nearly 900 off all DH.60 Moth models were built at the company’s factory at Stag Lane, and another 90 were built under license in Australia, France and the United States.

de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth, similar to the airplanes flown by Lady Bailey.
de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth, similar to the airplanes flown by Lady Bailey. (Royal Air Force Museum)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 September 1910: Bessica Faith Medlar Raiche, M.D.

Bessica Faith Medlar Raiche, 1910. (Unattributed)
Bessica Faith Medlar Raiche, M.D., 1910. (Unattributed)

16 September 1910: Bessica Faith Medlar Raiche, having had no training, made a solo flight in an airplane that she and her husband, François C. Raiche, had built at their home in Minneola, New York.

Two weeks earlier, 2 September 1910, Blanche Stuart Scott had also made a solo flight in an airplane while under instruction of Glenn Hammond Curtiss at his school at Hammondsport, New York. Scott was practicing taxiing to familiarize herself with the airplane and its controls. Curtiss had rigged the throttle to prevent it advancing far enough for the airplane to takeoff. However, possibly because of a wind gust, the airplane did become airborne and Blanche Scott is considered to have been the first American woman to fly solo in an airplane.

The Aeronautical Society of America credits Bessica Raiche with the first intentional solo flight, however. The society awarded her a gold medal studded with diamonds and inscribed The First Woman Aviator in America.

Bessica Raiche in her airplane.
Dr. Bessica Raiche in her airplane. (Unattributed)
Bessica Faith Medlar. (Midway Village Museum)
Bessica Faith Medlar. (Midway Village Museum)

Bessica Medlar was a many-talented woman. She received a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) from Tufts University in 1903. She was a practicing dentist, a linguist and an artist. She had traveled to France to study painting, and while there, had seen Orville Wright demonstrate his Wright Flyer.

Later, back at home, she and her husband built an airplane based on the Wrights’ design. Using lighter weight materials, though, bamboo, silk and piano wire, they assembled components in their home before taking them outside to put together. The biplane had a length of 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters) and a wingspan of 33 feet (10.058 meters). It was powered by an engine built by C.M. Crout which produced approximately 30 horsepower.

Because Mrs. Raiche was lighter, it was decided that she would attempt the first flights. The airplane was transported from their home to Hempstead Plains for the attempt. During the day she made five flights. The last one covered approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers). The airplane nosed over in a depression and Dr. Raiche was thrown out. She was uninjured and the airplane was only slightly damaged.

Forming the French-American Aeroplane Company, Mr. and Mrs. Raiche built several more airplanes.

Moving to the West Coast of the United States, Mrs. Raiche, also a medical doctor, opened her practice near Newport Beach, California. She was a well-respected doctor who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. She served as chairperson of the Orange County Medical Association. Her husband, Frank Raiche, was an attorney.

Dr. Raiche died at her home on Balboa Island in 1932 at the age of 57 years.

A Raiche-Crout Biplane. (Aeronautical Society of America)
A Raiche-Crout Biplane. (Aeronautical Society of America)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 September 1910: Blanche Stuart Scott

America’s first woman airplane pilot, Blanche Stuart Scott. (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
America’s first woman airplane pilot, Blanche Stuart Scott. (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

2 September 1910: After receiving flight instruction from Glenn Curtiss, Blanche Stuart Scott (1885–1970) became the first woman in the United States to fly an airplane when she made a solo flight in her biplane at Lake Keuka Field, Hammondsport, New York. She became a professional pilot and was a test pilot for Curtiss. She was the first woman to fly in a jet aircraft when she accompanied Chuck Yeager aboard a Lockheed TF-80C (redesignated T-33A), 6 September 1948.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 May 1930: Amy Johnson, CBE

Amy Johnson arrives at Darwin in her DH.60G, G-AAAH, 24 May 1930.
Amy Johnson arrives at Darwin in her DH.60G, G-AAAH, 24 May 1930.

24 May 1930: After a 19-day, 11,000 mile (17,700 kilometer), solo flight from Croyden Aerodrome, London, England, 26-year-old Amy Johnson arrives at Darwin, Australia in her de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAAH, named Jason. She received a £10,000  prize from the Daily Mail newspaper.

For her accomplishment she was made Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE). She was also awarded the Harmon Trophy, “for the most outstanding international achievements in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Amy Johnson landing at Port Darwin, Australia. )Fox Photo/Getty Images)
Amy Johnson landing at Port Darwin, Australia. (Fox Photo/Getty Images)

Her Gipsy Moth is in the Science Museum, London, England.

Flying Tonight. Portrait of Amy Johnson, 1930. © Ruth Hollick, Melbourne.
Flying Tonight. Portrait of Amy Johnson, 1930. © Ruth Hollick, Melbourne.

Amy Johnson had set many flight records, both individually and with her husband, James Mollison, whom she had married in 1932. He proposed to her during an airplane flight, only eight hours after having met her

During World War II, Amy Johnson flew for the Royal Air Force as a First Officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary (equivalent to the RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant). Tragically, on 5 January 1941, while flying over London, she was challenged by an RAF fighter. Twice she gave the incorrect recognition code and she was then shot down. Her airplane crashed into the Thames, where she was seen struggling in the water. Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher of HMS Haslemere dived into the river to rescue her, but both died. This incident was kept secret and it was publicly reported that she had run out of fuel.

Amy Johnson’s de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, Jason, G-AAAH, at the Science Museum, London. (nmsi.ac.uk 10216060.jpg)
Amy Johnson’s de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, Jason, G-AAAH, at the Science Museum, London. (nmsi.ac.uk 10216060.jpg)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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20–21 May 1932: Amelia Mary Earhart

Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).
Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).

20 May 1932: At 7:12 p.m., local, aviatrix Amelia Earhart departed Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, on a solo transoceanic flight. Her airplane was a modified single-engine Lockheed Vega 5b, registration NR7952.

Her plan was to fly all the way to Paris, but after her altimeter had failed, encountering adverse weather, including heavy icing and fog, a fuel leak, and a damaged exhaust manifold, Earhart landed in a field at Culmore, North Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes.

A lone, astonished farmer saw her land.

Amelia cut the switches, climbed out of the plane, and, as the man approached the plane, called out, “Where am I?”

Danny McCallion replied obligingly and with excruciating accuracy. “In Gallegher’s pasture.”

The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter Fifteen at Page 183.

Though she didn’t make it all the way to Paris, she was the first woman—and only the second person, after Charles A. Lindbergh—to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh’s flight was on the same date, five years earlier.

Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)

Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company in December 1928, the Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed to carry a pilot and up to seven passengers. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5B is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters).

Earhart’s Vega, serial number 22, was certified by the Department of Commerce, 17 September 1931, with its empty weight increased 220 pounds (99.8 kilograms) to 2,695 pounds (1,222.4 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1984.5 kilograms). It was modified at the Fokker factory in Teterboro, New Jersey to increase the fuel capacity to 420 gallons (1,589.9 liters). While it was there, her mechanic, Eddie Gorski, replaced the original Pratt and Whitney Wasp B engine with a new 1,343.8-cubic-inch-displacement (22.02 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney R-1340-C Wasp nine-cylinder radial engine producing 500 horsepower.

The standard Vega 5 had a cruising speed of 165 miles per hour (265.5 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Range with standard fuel tanks was 725 miles (1,166.8 kilometers).

Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world. Her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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