This Day in Aviation History: First Woman Fly Around the World in a Helicopter

20 years ago on August 8th, 1997, British helicopter pilot Jennifer Murray created history by becoming the first woman to fly around the world successfully.

Along with Quentin Smith, she accomplished this feat in 97 days.

This historic journey was started on May 10th, 1997 in a Robinson R44 helicopter. Heading east and flying over 28 countries, this feat was achieved on August 8th.

Jennifer Murray and Quentin Smith flew through Europe, Middle East and to Southeast Asia. Up into Russia, across the Bering Strait to Alaska, down to California and across the USA, before they entered Canadian coast and back to home, England through Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands.

This historic flight in Robinson R44 earned many first to its name:

  • Smallest helicopter

  • First woman

  • First grandmother

  • and the first British pair

  • and last but not the least, an FAI World Record

The R44 helicopter can fly non stop for 6 hours before the need to refuel. The FAI World Record was set for Speed Around the World: Eastbound using a single engine piston helicopter.

The record is set for 22.4 km / h.

Murray was 56 years old when she achieved this feat. She only had 600 hours of flying experience and started flying just 3 years back.

The target of the round the world trip was to complete it in 100 days and raise money for charity.

Around the world trip in a helicopter was done by only three men and they used jet turbine helicopter with an autopilot.

Murray flew a helicopter that did not had an autopilot.

As if all this was not enough, Murray took to skies again to create another history. In 2000, she become the first woman to fly solo around the world in a helicopter. Yet, again, no autopilot this time too.

In 2003, she created another history by becoming the first woman, along with co-pilot Colin Bodil, to fly to South Pole in a helicopter.

In 2006, Jennifer Murray repeated her round the world feat again, this time flying over North Pole and South Pole.

Murray has written three books on her adventure:

  • Now Solo: Her solo flight around the world
  • Broken Journey: The story of her flight to South Pole.
  • Polar First: About her solo flight via the two poles

Murray grew up in England, but was born in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. She now lives in Somerset, England and is the mother of three grown up children.

She lived for many years in Hong Kong and Thailand, where she worked as a textile designer.

It was before the flying bug bit her at the age of 54.

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