Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Polly Vacher - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challenge

Polly Vacher (1944-)
In 1999, Polly Vacher was busy planning her solo flight around the world. If successful the trip would raise money for Flying Scholarships for the Disabled in the UK and the U.S. She loved flying and wanted those with disabilities to also have the opportunity to fly. She called on members of the British Womens' Pilots Association to help.

The women formed a fundraising committee to organize special events for potential sponsors. The largest event, complete with a flying display, champagne gathering, dancing and dinner, brought in £65,000 from one sponsor alone. Some offered to pay for fuel, while others paid for charts and maps. In return, Polly would offer publicity for their support.
Polly Vacher was born in south Devon, UK in 1944. As a young child, she often daydreamed about flying. She even tried "growing wings" once. At 19, while a student in London, she was offered a ride in a glider and found the experience "magical." Life went on and she worked briefly as a physiotherapist, married, taught music for twenty years, and raised three sons. She was 45 before going up in the air again. This time is was skydiving, which she did to raise money for a charity, but she was thoroughly hooked afterwards. In the end she would log 245 skydives.

It was only a matter of time before piloting her first airplane in 1994. At 50, her children raised, Polly took lessons with her husband Peter in a Piper Dakota while living in Australia. Both earned their pilot's licenses and logged 84 hours flight time before circumventing the Australian continent. Back in England, Polly obtained her instrument rating (Peter was more interested in airplane maintenance at this point). Eager to test her skills, Polly flew solo across the North Atlantic to the U.S. (and back again) in their Piper Dakota in 1997. While in the states, she and Peter (he'd flown commercial) toured the U.S. and Canada together.

Polly and husband Peter

Flying the Piper PA-28 Cherokee Dakota

Itching to try something new, Polly began contemplating a solo world flight. Even with the British Womens' Pilots Association's help, it would take two years to raise the funds needed for such an undertaking. They called the trip the Wings Around the World Challenge.

In 2001, she lifted off the runway in her Piper PA-28 Cherokee Dakota, which became the smallest aircraft flown solo by a woman around the world via Australia. She visited 27 countries en route. One of her fondest memories was being received by Queen Noor in Jordan and meeting Prince Hamzah and Prince Faisal. It was scary flying over the Pacific though, where a cyclone forced her to land and wait out the storm, and on the final leg from Hawaii to California she experienced a grueling 16-hour flight. The engine had even quit as she was switching over fuel tanks. In the end Polly flew 29,000 miles and raised over $200,000 toward Flying Scholarships for the Disabled.

Supporting Flying Scholarships for the Disabled
Polly flew again around the world in 2003 for the same charity, this time over the North Pole, Antarctica and all seven continents. She became the first woman to fly over the polar regions solo  in a single-engine aircraft. The 35,000-mile journey covered 30 countries and was called Voyage to the Ice. Some of the preparations for the flight were intense, including the probability of a polar bear attack, should she land and have to survive in sub-zero temperatures.

Commenting, Polly said, "I have got a gun on board and have been trained to use it. It is not something I want to use, but if I meet a polar bear and it's a choice between me or him, I will use it. Apparently they don't like it if you fire into the air above them so I'll do that first."

Landing at the North Pole

In every long distance flight Polly took flight preparations seriously. She learned how to navigate by the sun, in case her GPS failed. She believed in using a checklist for every flight regardless the distance, and always paid attention to the weather. If in doubt, "Don't go" was her motto. Asked in 2015 what it took to be a good pilot, she added,

"Never be complacent. There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots! Pay attention to detail as flying requires you to be very precise."

(2007) Did it! Wings Around Britain Challenge
(Her last challenge before retiring. Polly
visited 221 airfields in Great Britain, flying
19,000 miles. Sixty-six disabled passengers
traveled on legs of the trip with her.
A Book about her North Pole adventure
(A portion of profits go for flying scholarships)

Website - Flying Scholarships: http://www.fsfdp.org.uk/news/news.html
(Flying scholarship donations apply to UK or U.S.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polly_Vacher; http://www.avweb.com/news/profiles/182917-1.; http://www.ninety-nines.org/polly-vacher.htm



  1. An early female pilot I had the pleasure of meeting was Ila Fox Loetscher, the first female to be given a license in Iowa and Illinois. She corresponded with Amelia Earhart, and one of the original "99's" a support group for female pilots organized in 1929. She later went on to become known as "The Turtle Lady" building a sea turtle rescue center on South Padre in Texas, which is when I met her. I fabulous woman.

    1. Love her name, but I don't recall seeing her, although I'm not surprised. For some of the letters I had a lot of choices. Would have loved learning about her sea turtle rescue operation. Neat you got to meet her :) Thanks for commenting.

  2. This was a pure pleasure to read Sharon. I have enjoyed your theme immensley throughout the challenge, only a few more left now.

    1. I'm so glad you're reading Yvonne and enjoying. Down to the wire now :) Thanks!

  3. What a number of miles this woman logged! Another very interesting story. If I didn't need my life back, I'd wish for more letters in the alphabet so I could read more about these women.

    1. Thank you! As she is the most recent pilot in the group, I found researching her more of a challenge. Information was scattered and some links were dead. Had to piece everything together. I suppose with time, the historians will straighten things out...

  4. Amazing that she not only wanted to fly herself but to help those with disabilities fly, too!

    1. I was pretty wowed by her devotion. It seems she had a heart for charities from the beginning, with that first skydive. I'm curious how many scholarships were issued and how many students became pilots.

  5. Catching up again....this is one amazing lady. So am I wrong that no woman tried since Amelia Earhart to travel round the earth?

    1. Hi. No, sorry for the misleading wording. (Jerrie Mock set a solo record in 1964). Polly Vacher set a record soloing around the world in the smallest aircraft via Australia. I know, I know. They get hung up on technicalities. (I fixed the wording). One source did mention that Polly's flight from Hawaii to California (over 2000mi) had not been done since Earhart's flight in 1935. Thanks for the detective work, Birgit!


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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.