Lonely Planet Writer

Meet the woman who is undertaking to fly solo across the US in this 74-year-old plane

Pilot Tracey Curtis-Taylor embarked yesterday on flying the 4,700 nautical mile historic US airmail route from Seattle to Boston, marking the third leg of her solo journey circumnavigating the world since 2013.

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The Boeing Stearman plane in flight. Image: Bird in a Biplane/John Goodman

Having taken off from the ‎Boeing‬ Field at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Tracey is flying in her 74-year-old Boeing Stearman across the US this month to mark the centenary of The Boeing Company, who were instrumental in developing flying routes and general aviation, and to celebrate the pilots who first flew the airmail routes.

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Tracey Curtis-Taylor embarking on her journey from the ‎Boeing‬ Field at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. Image: Bird in a Biplane

The journey will take until May 30th to complete, and she will stop off in 20 cities en route in her fully restored 1942 open-cockpit Boeing biplane, the Spirit of Artemis. Tracey will fly for approximately three hours per day, landing in cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York, and will generally fly below 1,000 feet at a maximum speed of 90 mph. It’s not for the faint-hearted, as Tracey is exposed to the elements, controls the airplane by stick-and-rudder flying, and orients herself with the help of a compass.

Tracey Curtis-Taylor doing flight simulation training. Image: Bird in a Biplane
Tracey Curtis-Taylor doing flight simulation training. Image: Bird in a Biplane

As the journey is also designed to celebrate and promote the achievements of women in every sphere and their historic and contemporary role in aviation and engineering, Tracey will meet young students across America on her journey to talk to them about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and careers. She hopes that the flight will inspire young women to follow their dreams, never give up, and break boundaries.

Born in 1962 and raised in Canada, Tracey developed a passion for flight and had her first lesson aged 16. She moved to England with her family in the 1970s, and her early working career in London included training with de Beers as a diamond valuer and a stint with the diplomatic service at the Foreign Office in Whitehall. She started flying in earnest when she moved to New Zealand, where she gained her private pilot’s licence, commercial licence and an instructor rating. She was also trained by military pilots to fly World War II aeroplanes with the New Zealand Warbird Association.

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Tracey Curtis-Taylor embarking on her journey in the Boeing Spearman. Image: Bird in a Biplane

The first part of Tracey’s epic world flight took place in 2013, when she flew nearly 10,000 miles from Cape Town to Goodwood in West Sussex. She flew a further 14,600 miles from the UK to Australia in 2015, retracing the route of aviator Amy Johnson, and became the first female pilot to tackle that route solo. In this current trip, Tracey will pick up the old airmail routes Charles Lindbergh flew before embarked on his famous Atlantic crossing in 1927. It probably suits her adventurous spirit that she will celebrate her 54th birthday in the air this month, travelling over Oregon.

To follow Tracey’s adventures, check out her website here or Facebook page here.