Sunday, 23 January 2011


In May 1932, at the age of 34, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic. She took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, and fourteen hours and fifty-six minutes later, landed in a field at Culmore, near Derry in Northern Ireland.

Well, a few days ago mum and I ran into a flying enthusiast on our way to a local beach to walk the dog, and he told us about another flight, some seventy years after Earhart, which followed an almost identical route and was, in it's own way, just as ground-breaking.

The name of the aeroplane was TAM-5, and it took off from Cape Spear, Newfoundland on August 9th, 2003. The designer, Maynard Hill, from Maryland, was there for the send-off; another pilot took the controls until TAM-5 reached cruising altitude, whereupon an autopilot system (also of Hill's design) took over for the next eighteen hundred miles; and finally, over the Irish coast, a pilot friend of Hill's called Dave Brown took over and made a perfect landing at Mannin Bay, Galway, thirty-eight hours and fifty-three minutes after takeoff.

Nothing particularly remarkable about that, except that:

1. Hill, at 77, was legally blind and almost deaf
2. TAM-5 managed the equivalent of 3,000 miles to the gallon
3.  When she landed she was carrying just 1.8 fluid ounces of fuel (not quite enough to fill an egg cup) - and
5. No pilot

If you haven't guessed already, it helps to know that TAM-5, also known as 'The Spirit of Butt's Farm', had an air frame of balsa wood and fibreglass, a wingspan of 6ft and weighed just 11 lbs; and that in 2003 Dave Brown was the president of The Academy of Model Aeronautics.

The Spirit of Butt's Farm still hold the record for the longest continuous flight by radio-controlled plane.
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