Through their journey across Africa, 15 vintage planes and helicopters were met by classic cars when they landed in Egypt, reports Mohamed Abdel-Razek
From Crete to Cape Town, the Vintage Air Rally crosses Africa, visiting 10 African countries on the way. The event, organised by The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom and The Federation Aeronautic Internationale, aims to relive the early footsteps of pioneer flying in the African skies back in the 1920s.
The rally started on 12 November and will end 17 December. In Cape Town, where the rally is meant to finish, the teams will have the choice of either shipping their birds back home or heading back flying; the organisers will assist them with the best route. “It will take us 35 days and 42 stops from Crete to Cape Town,” said Sam Rutherford, Vintage Air Rally director.
The flock includes planes built before 31 December 1939 like the Tiger Moth, Boeing Stearman, and Waco YMF5D, as well as two vintage helicopters, the R44 Robinson and the R66 Robinson. A few modern Cessnas were also added to the fleet during stops in countries like Egypt. Their pilots chose to join the rally taking off from their own countries rather than going back and forth. The Vintage Rally team members come from Britain, the US, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Botswana, France, South Africa, Cyprus, Egypt and Zimbabwe.
The first stop was Marsa Matrouh in Egypt where the pilots stayed for one night to rest and refuel for their next stop in 6th of October Airport.
There they found the classic car community led by Vintage Wheels Egypt and its owner Mahmoud Ezzeddin, who organises classic car events, waiting along with Aero Club of Egypt officials to give the pilots and co-pilots a warm welcome.
The scene was magnificent. “I felt I was in a time machine,” one of the spectators said. The classic cars with its Egyptian owners were positioned in the airport, anticipating the sounds of the vintage planes and helicopters. 10:30am was the exact time when the first two teams arrived in their helis, Padi and Sarah from the UK in their R44 and Boris and Yulia from Cyprus. The helis took their assigned places on the airport ground, after which the rest of the planes kept on coming one after the other boosting the excitement among spectators, as well as the owners of the classic cars who were getting a once in a lifetime experience.
Once all the teams had landed, Al-Ahram Weekly took the opportunity to interview Rutherford, who said that they made sure to take the same route as the first passenger service path. “We chose the countries that were on the original Imperial Airways route between Europe and South Africa, and that route came through Egypt,” said Rutherford. The main purpose of the rally according to its organisers is to prove to the younger generation that 90-year- old airplanes can still fly across continents, according to Rutherford.
Later, after the vintage planes had positioned themselves right behind the classic cars, one easily had the privilege of reliving the golden days. Not only did Egyptian spectators have fun watching the cars and the aircraft, but so too the rally crews were amused to see well maintained European and American classic cars living happily in Egypt, including the 1947 Bentley MKVI, the Ford Mustang from the 60s, Mercedes Benz of the 70s, the 1980s Porsche Targa and many other treasures. The vintage rally crews generously talked to the crowd and gave them an insight into their rare birds. The same was true of the classic car owners who shared information with the pilots.
The crew members of the Vintage Rally had a lot of interesting stories. Sarah, for example is a co-pilot from Botswana who flies with her dad on a DH82 Tiger Moth. Sarah, 23, took her first solo flight when she was 16. “We shipped our aircraft from Botswana to England, rebuilt it, then flew to France, Italy, Greece and Crete to start the rally,” Sarah said.
Sarah’s team was selected randomly to touch down at the Great Pyramids, however, she couldn’t join her dad, Brett, during this great experience because it was a must that an Egyptian co-pilot who knows how to land at the Pyramids should join Brett.
“Me and my wife Alexandra first came to Egypt a couple of years ago for the first time to spend our honeymoon,” said Belgium pilot Cedric, who came with his French wife to enjoy the rally. Cedric said that he always found Egypt nice. “I never think twice when I get the chance to visit this beautiful country. It’s safe here, the people are kind and I am really enjoying my time here.”
On 15 November the rally moved from Cairo to Hurghada to Luxor, then from Luxor to Aswan on 16 November during which they visited historical landmarks, then from Aswan to Abu Simbel the next day.
Choosing Egypt to be part of the rally sends a message to the world that the country is safe for such an international event following security lapses during the 2011 Revolution. The vintage planes crossed the Egyptian skies at low altitude and slow speed without problems. The teams visited nearly all touristic cities and sites with ease and had fun doing so. “The world leader in air sport was Egypt in 1933, not anywhere else, and by coming here today we would like to restart that era again,” Rutherford said.
“And we hope we get some flexibility from the government.”