"The Vimy Expeditions” will tell the story of a spirited group of adventurers, led by Peter McMillan, who devoted large parts of their lives and livelihoods to truly relive the first transcontinental aerial expeditions – the first flight from England to Australia (1919), the first non-stop Atlantic crossing (1919) and the first flight from England to South Africa (1920). But before embarking on these epic voyages, these modern-day aviators were obliged to build a perfect replica of the mammoth twin-engine biplane that accomplished each of these great pioneering flights – the Vickers F.B. 27 “Vimy” which had been designed as bomber in WWI. The Vimy project started in 1993 with the construction alone involving nearly 35,000 man hours of drafting, fabrication and testing, as well as countless regulatory approvals, followed by mind-bending logistics and of course, the never-ending search for funding.
Twelve years after the inception of McMillan’s project, the team had succeed in retracing the three great flights in their open-cockpit machine – 16,000 miles from London to Australia (1994), 10,000 miles from London to Cape Town (1999) and finally, in 2005, with the skills and support of pilot Steve Fossett, the Vimy reincarnate crossed the Atlantic exactly as did the original, from St John’s, Newfoundland to Clifden, Ireland guided only by celestial navigation. Hardly a single day ever went according to plan but the crew persisted and ultimately prevailed.
The flights were each sponsored and recorded by National Geographic which enabled the remarkable images seen in the publications on the flights as well as the lecture at the Explorer’s Club. But despite the glorious moments, floating just above the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Victoria Falls and other stunning sights, the specter of failure or worse, was always on the horizon. The crew endured limb-numbing fatigue, battled horrendous weather, crossed vast oceans, and hacked through miles of red tape, pulling all their skills and resourcefulness together to recover from an engine failure and crash landing in a remote paddy field in Sumatra.
The lecture will touch on some of the highlights of this global adventure, as well as the moments of despair, bringing together the spirits of aerial explorers past and present. Perhaps more than any other of mankind’s pursuits, the quest to explore the heavens required both sides of the mind – the spiritual and the cognitive; the dreams of Da Vinci and slide-rule calculations; pioneering the skies was driven emotion but balanced by intellect and measured risk-taking. The modern reincarnation of the Vimy sought to create a sort of living biography for these adventurers – and to offer a vivid reminder of the sense of determination and optimism required to get any new idea off the ground.
In 1992, Peter McMillan hatched the idea of building and flying the Vickers Vimy, along with Lang Kidby a well-known Australian adventurer. Prior to this project, McMillan had been involved in restoring a number of antique aircraft and in 1990 flew a 1942 T-6 Army Air Corps trainer from England to Australia. He has written two books including “The Vimy Expeditions” which was recently launched at the Royal Geographical Society. Peter has also authored numerous articles including a cover story for National Geographic. NG also produced a related documentary “The Greatest Flight” about his flight in the Vimy from England to Australia. Currently, Peter lives and works in London where he enjoys traveling with his family in their vintage Beech 18.
Free to EC Student Members, $5 with Student ID
Payment must accompany reservation. Tickets are secured only when a credit card is provided at the time the reservation is made. Reservations made without a credit card are not secured and tickets will be forfeited by 6:50pm the evening of the lecture.