British pilot and adventurer Tracey Curtis-Taylor and co-pilot Ewald Gritsch have survived a force-landing that has left her Boeing Stearman biplane unfit to fly.
Curtis-Taylor – who was in Australia recently when she reenacted a flight from England to Australia previously completed by aviation legend Amy Johnson – was flying her open cockpit biplane from Winslow, Arizona, destined for Phoenix when the accident occurred. Her aircraft, a rebuilt 1942 Stearman, suffered a partial loss of power soon after takeoff, she wrote on social media.
“The Spirit of Artemis then started to sink, which was not a great scenario, with power lines directly ahead,” she said. “Thankfully there was open desert to the south. I did a gentle left turn and then levelled off. It hit the ground and rolled forward about twenty feet but then the right wheel struck a dense sage root mound which tore off the right landing gear and threw the plane onto its left wing. It then cartwheeled tail over the nose in a cloud of sand and dust.”
Curtis-Taylor and fellow pilot Ewald Gritsch escaped the crash unhurt. Curtis-Taylor believes this was because of the aircraft’s superior construction: “The impact was absorbed by the wings and the airframe and the cockpit remained intact. The Stearman is a famously strong aeroplane but my admiration for it is now absolutely boundless when I consider the wider implications of what could have happened.”
The Stearman, designed in the 1920s as a trainer for US Army and Navy pilots, is equipped with a satellite navigation system, but little else in the way of modern technologies. Curtis-Taylor was on the third and final leg of her around the world trip, which she started in South Africa in 2013. She took off from Seattle in late April and was heading for Boston, but now, because of the crash and the damage to The Stearman her plan is on an indefinite hold.
“I am devastated by all of this and profoundly sorry that I won’t be able to finish the flight, at least not this year,” she said. Despite the setback, Curtis-Taylor said she had already been offered an identical Stearman as a replacement by her sponsors, Boeing which would allow her to continue.
“But I have such a deep attachment to the Spirit of Artemis and we have come such a long way together that I cannot contemplate doing it in anything else.”
She has said that her immediate plan of action was to ship the fuselage back to the original restorer in Hungary where rebuilding would commence immediately. “We had a spare engine on standby in case there was a problem, and there is also a spare set of wings,” she added.