FAMOUS for tempting fate and flying too close to the sun, the mythological story of the flight of Icarus has a tragic ending.
But one flight, bearing the same name, has culminated in celebrations and a record-breaking achievement.
The flight of Ikarus – a C42 microlight piloted by Richard Foster, 35, and Richard Bird, 60, has at last touched down at Goodwood after a three-month, 12,500-mile round trip.
And if that’s not enough, the duo flew entirely unsupported, without crew or accompanying aircraft, over 20 countries, all the way to Cape Town, South Africa.
“It was amazing,” said pilot Richard Foster, a former firefighter from Bognor Regis. “We have had the most incredible time.”
Richard is chief flying instructor at Goodwood-based South Coast Microlights. He gave up a career in the fire service in the hope of getting paid to fly, and now spends his days teaching flying fanatics the art of microlighting.
But the aviator wanted to push the capabilities of the aircraft – and himself to the very limit.
He told the Observer in January: “I’m doing it for fun, the sheer adventure and to show that the latest breed of lightweight, fuel-efficient microlights are not only a joy to fly, but have the capability and reliability to withstand the severe weather and hostile terrain that can be expected on this demanding route.”
Fraught with challenges
The pilots took the microlight across the Channel to France then on to Italy, Croatia, Greece and Crete – and over the Mediterranean to Africa where they flew over the Sahara desert and the Serengeti. But the journey was fraught with challenges.
“The main challenge was our fuel and range,” said Richard.
“That was my biggest concern when we started. We thought where do we get the fuel from because fuel in Africa is few and far between.”
Richard said the microlight could carry enough fuel to cover 300 nautical miles. But Richard the distance between airports was ‘massive’.
“We had some help from a friend from AGSE – Aviation Ground Support Equipment – who helped us to land within the fuel range.
“We landed in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, with five litres of fuel.”
They resorted to putting fuel in jerry cans, but the aircraft – an Ikarus C42 a two-seater, fixed tricycle gear – can’t take too much extra weight.
“We landed and Richard started putting the fuel in,” said Richard.
“But we noticed people were watching us. They were from a tribe, so I just put my hand out to greet them. They were very friendly and we took lots of pictures.”
Despite friendly welcome parties at airports on the route, the adventurers were nearly ‘locked up’ in Namibia, had a run with in a Boeing 737 coming in to land, flew ‘blind’ through sandstorms and were slapped on the wrist by the British embassy for flying with few emergency supplies.
Richard said the most challenging stretch of the journey was over the desert.
“I’ve been flying for 15 years and it was the most difficult flying I have had to deal with. The views were amazing, but the thermal currents were very strong – we were so light the engine couldn’t work through it. We just had to ride it like a rollercoaster.”
Although the views were amazing – the team saw herds of elephants and the Maasai Mara – the two Richards struggled to appreciate the views over the mountains.
“Out limit was 10,000ft, but the mountains were also 10,000ft high. So we had to navigate 50ft over the mountains. We could see villages down below.”
If that wasn’t enough, the microlight was almost shot down over Sudan.
“They were just about to give an order to shoot us down with antiaircraft guns. You can’t fly over military basis, they think you are reconnaissance. I have never turned around so fast in my life.”
The team, who are raising money for Oxfam, were welcomed home by supporters at Goodwood, including Dave Sykes, a British paraplegic pilot about to circumnavigate the world first flying a weightshift microlight aircraft. They were also joined by proud sponsors including Imperial Car Supermarket.
“It was an absolutely amazing adventure,” said Richard. “We would like to say thank you to our sponsors. None of this would be possible without them.”
“But would I do it again? No!”
Richard Bird said: “Without the superb aviating skills of Rich Foster we would not have achieved this epic flight. For me, as a fairly low-hours novice pilot, this was the flying journey of a lifetime.
“My considerable thanks and appreciation to Rich, Eddie, Ahmed and GASE, my family and friends, and especially to our Facebook and internet followers. It has been a fabulous experience to share.”
Experience Richard Foster’s passion for flying at South Coast Microlights or call 07807 239590 to book an air experience.
Read about Richard’s record attempts at The Flight of Ikarus