Tag Archives: Lady Mary Heath

Lady Mary Heath ~ Extraordinary Female Aviator in the Roaring Twenties

Background and Inspiration to Fly

Mary Heath’s unfortunate start to life, when her father was found guilty of murdering her 220px-Mary,_Lady_Heathmother, did not seem to hamper her development and ambition. Brought up by her grandfather and two elderly aunts, she took an active part in sport and passed a degree in science in Ireland. In WW1 she became a dispatch rider, initially in England but then in France. In her early years her achievements were in sport rather than aviation. In 1925 she was part of a delegation to an Olympic Congress in Prague and her journey by aeroplane changed her life. (photo from Wikipedia)

Her achievements

In 1926 she became the first female aviator to be a commercial pilot by gaining an A licence and she also flew Shorts seaplanes. (Diana’s eyes light up here!) In January 1928 Mary Heath made her name known worldwide, by her solo flight in her Avian from Cape Town to the UK. (Celebrate by Tracey Curtis Taylor this winter – see my last post) In the same year she went to the USA where she hoped to gain a position with KLM, but her gender was against her. Undeterred she continued to work in aviation.

Notable difference

Lady Heath married her third husband Reggie Williams in Lexington Kentucky in 1930, with each marriage securing enough income to continue to fly. The pair returned to Ireland for a further wedding ceremony causing more notoriety, since Reggie was from Trinidad and inter-racial marriages were extremely rare. They both worked as aviation instructors for Iona National Airways.

Death

Mary had a most unfortunate end after such a glamorous life. She developed a serious drinking problem and died in London in 1939 at the age of 43 years – a sad end for a person who fought for equal opportunities in the public eye for so many years, whether it be gender, racial or social standing. She certainly had a story to inspire, although her demise was so very tragic.

For more information on Mary visit:

Wikipedia       Irish Historical Aviation        Eclectic Ephemera blogspot

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Filed under Early Flight, Events, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Frivolous Flying Facts, Memoirs, Role of Women, WW1

A Modern Day Lady Pioneer in Aviation ~ Tracey Curtis Taylor ~ Cape Town to Goodwood Winter 2013

An article in the newspaper over the weekend caught my eye of Tracey Curtis Taylor who flew a 1940’s bi-plane from Cape Town to Cairo. She had been inspired by the record breaking flight of Mary Heath back in 1928; nearly 90 years on and yet the feat seems equally astonishing.

BACKGROUND

Curtis Taylor began learning to fly aged 16 years, and became a flying instructor. On moving to New Zealand from Canada, where she grew up, she became fascinated by vintage planes and, like myself, began to research the early pioneers and Lady Heath became her heroine.

PREPARATION

Curtis Taylor had a plane restored to her specification including a GPS system; a 1942 Boeng Stearman in racing green with a top speed of 95mph, which she believed suitable for the demands of intense heat in Africa. Gaining sponsorship from Artemis Investments she named her plane ‘Spirit of Artemis.’

FLIGHT

Setting off on November 2nd 2013 she flew from Cape Town, over Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Egypt, finally landing at Goodwood in West Sussex on New Year’s Eve. She felt the spirit of Mary Heath with her many times during the flight, notably swooping over the dispersing wild animals in Kenya and the Victoria Falls in Tanzania, for which she was reprimanded. Although officialdom caused many headaches, which seems no surprise considering the list of countries she crossed, it was the storms she faced on her return to Europe and was heading for the Britain that was her final nightmare. Nevertheless she was welcomed enthusiastically by family and friends in the country where she was born, Britain.

NOTABLE DIFFERENCE

As in all my aviation biographies, Tracey Curtis Taylor is no exception. There is more to the lady than someone who loves the excitement of flight, overcoming all obstacles to reach her ambitions. So inspired was she by women she met in Africa, the way they worked and the conditions they endured, that she hopes to return to the Lewa Reserve in Kenya to do a documentary about them.

I’m sure there’ll be a book to look forward to in the future.

My next post will be about Lady Mary Heath and her flight back in 1928.

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Filed under Early Flight, Role of Women