Woman rides in plane decades after flying around world
CODY, Wyo. (AP) — When Carol Armstrong recently took to the air in a Beechcraft T-34, it was her first time in the cockpit since 1990. The hiatus is understandable. During that year she was in an aircraft for most of two months as she and her husband flew around the world.
“I had a husband who was an aviator and adventurer,” she said.
That taste for adventure was sated during the World War II years when Jackson Armstrong flew transport missions into China over “The Hump,” the east end of the Himalayas, for 18 months of 1943 and 1944.
After his discharge from the military, Armstrong went on to a career as a test pilot for Douglas Aircraft. He worked in multiple overseas assignments in Germany, India, and Switzerland.
What would perhaps be the Armstrongs’ greatest adventure began simply enough in 1990.
“One evening I was making spaghetti and he was reading an aircraft magazine,” Carol said. “He just said, ‘let’s fly around the world.’ I said OK.”
The Armstrongs got into contact with a vintage aircraft association that was planning to retrace the air mail route from England to Australia. They planned to travel with them. The craft of choice would be a light blue 1950 Beechcraft Bonanza.
“It was mandatory to fly a vintage aircraft, so we got the fastest one we could; the Bonanza,” She said.
The aircraft was specially modified to carry additional fuel; enough to keep the plane airborne for 21 hours straight. It also underwent substantial engine upgrades. Jack would fly and Carol would navigate. They were 69 and 55 respectively.
With a course plotted, the couple departed the United States in February of 1990. They took off from Burley, Idaho, bound for Minneapolis. Their first international stop was Montreal. They were on their way to St. John’s, Newfoundland when they hit their first technical hiccup.
“We lost our alternator,” Carol said. “We made an emergency landing in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. It was a tiny little place.”
The airport they landed at had one mechanic. Carol was skeptical, but Jack had faith in the man’s abilities.
“He told me that this mechanic took care of many of the tail draggers that fly into the North Woods,” she said. “It took him most of the evening because he had to keep warming his hands up, but he got the repair done.”
The Armstrongs left their hotel at 3 the next morning and were soon airborne once more. They made the Atlantic crossing in nine and a half hours, landing in the Azores.
“We would use airliners to relay radio communications for us,” Carol said. “Lots of pilots asked us what we were doing out that far.”
From there, the next stops were Santiago de Compostela, Spain and Maidenhead, England, where they met up with the other members of their flight group.
Twelve vintage planes embarked on the journey, ranging from a Piper Cub to a Stinson Reliant.
“No two were the same,” Carol said. “Several of them didn’t finish the flight due to mechanical problems.
The planes embarked for the Artois region of northern France, and navigated south to Italy. Greece was the final stopover before crossing the Mediterranean.
The Armstrongs took some time to sightsee after touchdown in Luxor, Egypt.
“We stopped and saw the pyramids,” Carol said. “We took a boat ride on the Nile and had cocktails at the Winter Palace Hotel.”
It was soon back to the air, with a stopover in Petra, Jordan. After a long flight over Saudi Arabia, the couple touched down in Oman.
The next leg of their trip would prove more eventful. The Armstrongs left Oman and made a stop in Afghanistan. India was their next destination, but they were forced to deviate from the airport they had planned to land at by a landing gear problem.
Once on the ground, the Armstrongs were initially warmly welcomed by airport staff. This changed when military personnel arrived.
“We were arrested and they started searching the plane,” she said. “We were taken to a hangar and interrogated for the rest of the day. They wanted to know everything.”
The Indian authorities suspected the Armstrongs of smuggling guns into Pakistan.
“The first night, after the interrogation, we were taken to this old English house and kept under guard all night,” Carol said. “The next day we were taken to the hangar and interrogated all day again.”
This time, however, the owner of the airstrip where they had landed arrived.
“He had political connections, so he was able to get them to release us into his custody,” she said. “We went to his house that night and he called all his aviator friends to come meet the crazy Americans. It was a party then.”
The Armstrongs went through this odd dichotomy of suspects by day, socialites by night for two days before finally succeeding in contacting the American embassy.
“The next morning we got word from the embassy saying, ‘We have secured your release. Get out of India,’” said Carol. “We took off as soon as we could.”
After brief stops in New Dehli and Calcutta, the Armstongs left India behind. Thailand and Singapore, and Indonesia were their next airports of call.
“We finally got to Australia and landed in Darwin,” Carol said. “After that we flew out over the Great Barrier Reef down to Adelaide, and that’s where we left the plane.”
After two months of almost daily air travel, the Armstrongs left their Bonanza, for sale, in Adelaide and flew home commercial.
“The plan was to sell the plane, but we picked a bad time. There was a downturn in the market” Carol said. “Nobody bought it down there, so the next year my husband went back, picked it up, and soloed it across the Pacific.”
The plane did sell in America, but it was destroyed in a crash just a few years afterwards.
Following her husband’s death in 2002, Carol Armstrong moved to Cody from Bozeman to be closer to family. She has since gotten involved in local political and community events. The T-34 she went up in was part of a flyover at the Park County Republican Party Freedom Celebration this year.
The flight was organized by Armstrong’s friends and family. After the plane touched down, Armstrong was in tears.
“It brought back so many memories,” she said. “It was a fantastic experience.
Information from: The Cody Enterprise, http://www.codyenterprise.com