On May 6, 2003, Polly Vacher took off from Birmingham airport seeking to become the first pilot to complete a solo flight around the world via both Poles in a single-engine aircraft. Despite having only a few years of flying experience, Polly, a 59-year-old mother of three, had already completed a lateral solo circumnavigation of the world in 2001 for the charity Flying Scholarships for the Disabled; this second challenge, for the same charity, would make that achievement look like a casual jaunt. There would be no margin for error. Her voyage to the ice was a 35,000-mile adventure in her Piper Dakota that would take her to at least 30 different countries on every single continent. She had prepared meticulously for two years, was fully insured and had all the requisite permits and visas.
Let me declare a certain bias. I first met the author in 2002 when she spoke to the Heathrow Royal Aeronautical Society about her FIRST round-the-world solo flight in 2001. I was captivated by this tiny lady, dressed in what has become her trademark orange flying coverall, recounting her flight in a PA28 over those vast distances against all the odds of weather, aircraft reliability and bureaucracy – not to mention loneliness and self doubt. When I heard she was going to do it again, but via the north and south poles this time, I was flabberghasted but excited. I applied to have my name stencilled on her aircraft wing and flew into Oxford Kidlington in April 2003 in the back of the Halton Aero Club Chipmunk (flown by Wg Cdr Alec Trevett) to attend her ‘farewell party’. I followed her subsequent voyage on www.worldwings.org.
WINGS AROUND THE WORLD is a story of people and places rather than flying techniques or statistics. It portrays the difficulties and frustrations of organising such an adventure in the modern world – greater at times than those faced by the early aviation pioneers whose main problems were obtaining suitable fuel and oil, dodging bad weather, maintaining serviceability, navigating uncharted regions and manually flying their flimsy aircraft every moment of the way. In contrast to those early pioneers Polly took every sensible precaution; she had an autopilot, the latest navigation equipment, wore and carried appropriate survival gear, and carried fuel for 20 hours endurance; she staged her maintenance schedules for the 550hours and 60,000nm flown. However, despite her rigorous and meticulous preparations she eventually had to make the bravest decision of all, to abandon her planned route over the South Pole when strong headwinds made it certain she could not continue safely from Rothera to reach the Amercican Antarctic base at McMurdo, fully knowing that she would not have a second chance. She followed that with her decision to embark upon 14,000 nautical miles 125 flying hours detour, which included a 2068nm/16.25 hours flight from California to Hawaii. Polly triumphantly returned home 352 days after leaving Birmingham airport in May 2003, determined never to do it again.
So why does she do it? To promote Flying Scholarships for the Disabled, not just in the UK but the world over. Wouldn’t it be better to simply beg the sponsors who helped to finance her trip to give hard cash to her cause while she stayed at home promoting it? NO!. Polly’s major contribution to her cause is to set an example, to show what can be done when you set your mind to it.
And it is not just disabled people who have been inspired by her example to defy their disablities. As a late-comer to flying (aged 64 in 1998) I, like most pilots, have relished the experience of personal achievement that flying provides. I am inspired by Polly’s example, not to circumnavigate the world in the PA28 I fly, but to explore my retirement hobby to the full while I can.
Buy this book, enjoy reading it, and in doing so make your contribution to Flying for the Disabled.
How to order
£20 plus P&P (£4 UK, £5.50 Europe, £5 Surface rest of the world, £10 Airmail rest of the world)
Grub Street Publishing, 4 Rainham Close, London SW11 6SS
tel: 0207 924 3966, e-mail: [email protected], www.grubstreet.co.uk
Signed copy: £20 P&P inclusive