Sunday, August 11, 2013

"I love water in my bath...but not under a light aeroplane..."

In her trip across the USA in May 1929, Lady Heath regaled rapt audiences with many a tale (some of them pretty tall) from  her adventures.  
She admitted to her fear of water and confessed that rather than fly directly from Cairo to Europe on her epic trip from Capetown to London, she had skirted the north Africa coast, flying 600 miles out of her way  so that she could cut the distance over the Mediterranean to 75 miles.
"I love water in my bath  and in a glass, but when it is under a light airplane, I have no courage," she told the Wichita chapter of the Women's Aeronautical Association  at its first official meeting and dinner held on Thursday May 9.
It took her three months to make the trip for she had decided to enjoy every minute of the way. 
She claimed to have researched much of the route beforehand, though this seems a slight exaggeration; her trip to Kenya with Sir Sefton Brancker, when she certainly did do some flying, would have helped, but there is no record of her having visited Sudan or Egypt.
"First I travelled every foot of the distance of the flight. In some instances, I was forced to fight, inch by inch, through dense jungles. Then again we trekked our way across burning desert spots and made many trips across lakes and rivers. I was determined to know the route before I started to fly it."
"Of course as I have spent many years in Africa I enjoyed the preparations. I had many opportunities to hunt big games and if you know Africa, you know that life there is a continual battle for existence. It is a battle of human, animal and vegetable growth.If you don't cut down the trees, the jungle encroaches upon your land.  If you don't kill the wild animals, they kill you, so I never have any qualms of conscience in hunting big game. My biggest thrills have not been in the air but when I was charged by three wild buffalo, " reported the Wichita Eagle. 
She told a story of her early days as a pilot travelling from one airshow to the next. In full view of the crowd, a dummy  was dropped from a plane into a clump of bushes. As the horror-struck crowd rushed forward, a mechanic, hidden nearby, stood up, brushed himself off and exclaimed: "Well, you see how safe flying has become."  The Wichita Beacon describes Lady Heath's outfit for the night - an evening dress of "gay figured silk" with a matching cape, a gold headband and gold slippers.
She spent five days in Wichita as the guests of local airplane factories and manufacturers, among them Stearman. Travelling with her was a mechanic GW Davis. So much did she enjoy herself that a week later she returned for a benefit dinner. Depending on which newspaper you read, she was either looking for a plane she could fly in the Women's Air Derby, or had decided  not to enter the race, and preferred to tend to her knitting!
* Thanks to Walt Peterson for supplying these cuttings, which were rooted out of the Wichita Public Library archives by Robert Tucker. 

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