It’s Cape Town or Bust for Biplane Biggles

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Martyn Wiseman has survived three bouts of cancer, a fatwa in revolutionary Iran — and has walked away from five air crashes.

All of which may be a good omen for his next adventure: flying an ageing biplane in a vintage air rally the length of Africa. The rally, which begins in Crete on November 12, brings together 12 teams with crews from 13 countries and aircraft dating back to the 1920s. They will cover 8,000 miles over 35 days to finish in Cape Town.

One of the aircraft taking part is the plane flown by Robert Redford in the film Out of Africa.

Wiseman is travelling in an Antonov An-2, a relatively young aircraft, having been built in 1976. However, it was designed in the Soviet Union where the reputation for air safety was no better than the one for free speech.

How much experience does Wiseman have of flying the plane? “None. Zero,” he said cheerfully.

“Flying the Antonov is a massive challenge. It’s big, powerful and everything is in Russian.”

He will be assisted by a retired commercial pilot from Lithuania. “He has 1,200 hours on this aircraft, so while I am captain he will be wet-nursing me,” he said.

Wiseman, 55, from Hull, is carrying spare parts for the other biplanes because his is a larger craft. It also has room to carry three technicians and Wiseman’s wife, Julia.

“It’s very hard to express my feelings about this trip — excitement, anticipation, challenge,” he said.

The couple have five children between them. “They have asked us to make sure we have enough life insurance before we go.”

The crew and pilots in the rally will frequently sleep rough alongside their aircraft.

The organiser of the Crete2Cape event, Sam Rutherford, 44, trained at Sandhurst before joining the Army Air Corps where he served eight years as a helicopter pilot. He said part of the inspiration for the route was that it had never been done before.

“That is increasingly unusual in this day and age. So I thought, let’s go for it,” he said. “The event combines beautiful scenery with a certain risk, jeopardy and challenge.”

One of the high points will be when the aircraft arrive in Egypt where they have been given permission to land next to the pyramids at Giza. “It has not been done for 80 years. It is going to be amazing.”

All being well, the fleet of aircraft should arrive in Cape Town on December 17. “I will not be surprised if they don’t all make it to Cape Town but I won’t be surprised if they do,” said Rutherford. “It’s going to be a real challenge.”

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