South Africa Flight
Vickers Vimy
Alex Henshaw
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Percival Mew Gull

At the end of the First World War the route between London and Cape Town was regarded as one of the greatest challenges for aviators. Although parts of the route had been covered, no-one had flown the full distance. The British Air Ministry set about surveying the area and by 1919 the RAF had established a string of airfields and emergency landing strips along what was to become known as the African route.

The first flight from England to Cape Town was completed by South Africans Lt. Col. Pierre van Ryneveld and Flight Lieutenant Christopher Joseph (Flossie) Quintin-Brand. They departed England on 4 February 1920 from Brooklands Aerodrome in Surrey in a Vickers Vimy christened the 'Silver Queen', arriving in Cape Town forty five days later in a DH-9 having lost 'Silver Queen' and a second Vimy ('Silver Queen II') in accidents along the way.

By 1937 the the England - Cape Town - England record was down to 5 days, 17 hours and 28 minutes, set by Fl. Off. Arthur Clouston and Betty Kirby Green flying a twin-engined DH Comet (G-ACSS) in November.

In 1939 Alex Henshaw decided to challenge Clouston and Green's record in a specially modified Percival Mew Gull (G-AEXF). The flight to Cape Town was completed in 39 hours 23 minutes and the return trip in 39 hours 36 minutes (a record breaking total of 4 days, 10 hours and 16 minutes). In 1939 this was the fastest time for any aircraft or crew from Cape Town to England and back, beating the solo record by a massive 66 hours and 42 minutes.

Henshaw's England - Cape Town - England (12,754 miles) was an all-time record which at the time of writing still stands today, however, in 2009, South African airline pilot Charles 'Chalkie' Stobbart smashed Henshaw's time flying Cape Town - England - Cape Town, setting a new record for the reverse route, an incredible achievement.

Picture: David and Zan Blundell/