Daredevil pilots ready for Sam Rutherford’s Vintage Air Rally in South America
Vintage biplanes will go head to head in a race across South America – and you could be joining them
A six-week air rally featuring only vintage aircrafts from the early 1900s will take to the skies in March, leaving the runway at Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina – also known as ‘The End of the World’. The rally, Ushuaia2USA, will cover 9,200 miles across 19 countries, ending at the Sun ‘n’ Fun International Fly-In and Expo’ in Florida on 14 April.
Devised by former Royal Army pilot Sam Rutherford, the 42-day race will cross some of the continent’s most dangerous routes and treacherous terrains, flying over windswept Patagonia, peaks of the Andes, Paraguay swamps and jungles of Peru. The Amazon rainforests, Panama Canal and volcanoes of El Salvador are also on the route.
Pilots who reach Cuba, the penultimate stop of the rally, will be treated to a cigar party in Havana before gathering for the final journey to Florida – a flight that has only just become possible since the end of the American embargo against Cuba. There, pilots will enjoy a gala dinner with presentations of the Vintage Air Rally trophy and the team-voted Spirit of the Rally trophy.
“I thought it would be a nice idea to do a rally for vintage biplanes, and when I did the research and discovered that nothing even similar had ever been done before, I realised I had to do it,” Sam explained to Tempus of his first rally, November 2016’s Crete2Cape. “The pilots from the Crete2Cape all agreed it was the experience of a lifetime, a truly amazing moment out of time. We have already received hundreds of contacts from pilots hoping to take part in Ushuaia2USA.”
The Sandhurst-trained former helicopter pilot spent years flying special missions, including a secondment in Central America attached to the US Drug Enforcement AdminIstration (DEA) working against drug cartels. But he says flying in vintage aircrafts is a totally different experience.
“Flying a vintage plane is completely different at all levels, both on the ground and in the air, to a modern aircraft,” he said. “In fact, everything is a challenge and uncertain, but it is also amazing and with the open cockpit you can actually smell the environment you’re flying through not just see it.
He advises that, due to the age and structure of the biplanes taking parts, emergency landings and unplanned stops are extremely likely. “We’ve got lots of very old biplanes, from the 1920s and 1930s. Also planes with a story to tell – one of the biplanes was used to smuggle alcohol from Canada during Prohibition, and crashed three times in the process,” he said.
“South America has amazing scenery and people,” Sam said of the route choice. “I’m looking forward to landing in Torres de Paine, overflying the Perito Moreno glacier and Iguazu falls, the Panama canal and a lot of volcanoes. We’re still hoping to get permission to land on the Avenida las Americas in Buenos Aires.”
Recapturing that pioneering spirit of early aviation, Sam and his team are also offering 15 free places on the rally, seeking contestants “with a head for heights and a sense of adventure”. With all costs covered – including travel, aircraft shipment, food and accommodation, fuel, permits and insurance – Sam explains that this trip is entirely focused on those eager for a daring trip.
“This is a unique journey and we want to invite everyone in the world to join us. We’re looking for characters with character who want to join us. Vintage Air Rally isn't about smart hotels. It's about grit (and glory), going to places usually out of reach. If you’re someone who thrives on adventure, excitement and derring-do then this is for you.”