Image: Giles Abrey next to his plane. Credit: Giles Abrey
In November 2019, Giles set off from Illington, Norfolk to embark on an extraordinary flight that would take him across 13 countries to land in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, all in a plane he'd built with friends.
“The whole trip was epic,” said Giles. “It took 12 years to plan – the plane itself took four years to build – and, even then, there was a lot of learning as I was going along. I’d never flown above 4,500ft before and, two days in, I suddenly found myself cruising over the Alps, 12,000ft in the air.”
The trip was inspired by pilot Alex Henshaw, who, in 1939, set a record for flying solo from London to Cape Town and back again.
“I read a book about Alex’s solo flight and was absolutely fascinated,” said Giles. “The test of endurance is one of the things I like most about flying, and getting to fly my own plane for five weeks to South Africa, where I got my pilot’s licence, sounded like a dream come true.”
The keen aviator admitted that he did feel a lot of pressure on his trip though.
“I knew so many people were following my journey and supporting me, and there were quite a few times when I had to just sit in the cockpit, and tell myself not to mess it up.”
'I hadn't fully appreciated how vulnerable I was'
The hardest stretch of the journey for Giles was when he was flying through the Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
“I’ve obviously experienced turbulence before,” explained Giles, “but this was the first time it had been really, really bad. I initially thought I’d be able to out-climb it, but I was starting to reach the limit of needing oxygen, and I could hear airliners on the same frequency reporting turbulence at 38,000ft so I knew there was no way I could.
“I hadn’t fully appreciated how vulnerable I was in my small aircraft, and this was the first time it really hit me. The GPS said I still had about 90 minutes to go, so it really was just a case of mind over matter to make sure I kept flying.”
But Giles said he’s glad the trip wasn’t just blue sky and smooth cruising, and that same day also gave him his favourite moment.
“I was flying over the Sossusvlei sand dunes in Namibia, and I hadn’t heard anyone over the radio for an hour. There were no roads and no civilisation and, as I came to the coastline, all I could see was the deep blue water of the coast with no people around. As I was flying along the coast, I looked down and flying below me was a flock of flamingos. I didn’t even know there were flamingos in that part of the world – I really thought I might be seeing things. The experience was utterly breath-taking.”
Image: Sunset view from the plane. Credit: Giles Abrey
'I wanted to do something to help.'
Giles had decided to use his epic adventure to raise money for three charities close to his heart, with The Institute of Cancer Research receiving 50% of his final total and Farm Africa and GeeWizz receiving 25% each. He has now raised almost £40,000.
“So many of my family and friends have been affected by cancer, and I wanted to do something to help. 1 in 2 of us are expected to develop cancer at some point in our lives, and that’s why it’s so important to fund this research now. The ICR has an incredible track record in fighting cancer, and I’m really pleased to be able to do whatever I can to support their research.”
Heather Lacey, Supporter Events Manager, who looks after sports and challenge fundraisers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:
“Giles’ incredible feat really does bring a whole new meaning to the words ‘challenge fundraising’. We’re all so proud and impressed by his achievement, and we’re really grateful that he chose us as one of the charities to benefit from his fundraising.
“The ICR relies on donations to help us carry out much of our pioneering research, and Giles’s support will make a massive difference in enabling us to continue our life-saving work.”
Although Giles is now safely back home with his family, that doesn’t mean his flying days are over.
“I’ve actually just finished rebuilding my plane... We had to take it apart so it could be shipped back to England, but now it’s back together and I’ll heading back out this weekend to make sure it’s all still working.
“I would love to do another challenge like this. I did initially look at doing a solo round-the-world trip, but I’m not sure I’ll be allowed to go away for that long again…”
To find out more about Giles’ incredible journey, please visit Adventures4Charity.
You can help him reach his fundraising goal:
Donate on VirginMoneyGiving
To find out more about fundraising for the ICR, please email [email protected].