Zandvlei Trust

The "Stobbart – Henshaw Challenge".

The Challenge.                                                      The historic plane with a Spitfire.


EAA (Experimental Aviation Association) salutes Charles "Chalkie" Stobbart, EAA 273568, of Johannesburg, South Africa, who according to his website landed safely at Cape Town, South Africa, at 1422 Zulu Monday, after flying to London and back in (unofficial) record-breaking fashion.

In "The Henshaw Challenge," Chalkie flew an Osprey GP 4 homebuilt airplane (wood and fibre glass / composite) for 3 days, 15 hours, 17 minutes - some 20,000 km (12,427 statute miles) - to break the 70-year-old aviation record set in 1939 by Alex Henshaw (1912 - 2007).

The final entry on the team website's news ticker reads simply: "2009-05-11 14h22 GMT And he's landed!!!" Henshaw's 70-year-old record - set flying in a modified Percival Mew Gull from London to Cape Town and back - was 4 days, 10 hours, 16 minutes.


Landed Cape Town, 11 May 2009, 16h22.                  The welcome from surrounding buildings while taxing in.

The last bend.                                                               Welcome from wife Maureen, and relief.

The Alex Henshaw junior signed copy.                              Chalkie and plane owner Tony van den Heuvel
                                                                                    and his son Nicholas.

Cheers and thanks to all involved also for the         The plane looked remarkably clean after such a long flight.

  Radio,TV and the press were there. About 100 people arrived to witness the historical occasion.

There was "a team" working behind the scenes to make it all possible, many family members, along with other people who followed the flight via the internet for 3 days.
Even the "remote enthusiasts" were exhausted after hardly sleeping all weekend watching the progress of the challenge which was tracked by satellite (see below).

22/05/2009 – There is a ratification process which takes place to verify all the rules were adhered too. What is not clear if Chalkie has broken the record or not. If not he has his own record. What is being disputed is the actual direction interpretation of the rules.

The following is from the AVCOM a local internet based discussion forum.

This is a letter written to Chalkie by Alex Henshaw junior.


On Monday 11th May 2009 at 14:22 GMT Charles “Chalkie” Stobbart landed at Cape Town after an epic flight from Cape Town to London and back shattering my Father’s record set in February 1939 by 18 hours 59 minutes. I was at Southend to meet him on his arrival and was staggered to see less than thirty enthusiasts there to greet him. No national or local news reporters, no television coverage, and no support from any aviation groups other than two representatives from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. Had this been any other sporting event with a world record likely to be achieved the venue would have been heaving with the press.

For a person to fly night and day and night for thirty six hours in a most uncomfortable aircraft, have a rest for 14 hours and then do the same again on the return is quite an extraordinary feat of airmanship, and displays great courage, determination, and self discipline, to the point of complete exhaustion. I am sure my Father would have been the first to congratulate him on this magnificent achievement.

Many people have said that my Father’s record should have been left sacrosanct. He did not believe that, otherwise he would not have issued the challenge in his book “The Flight Of The Mew Gull,” and nor do I. Yes conditions were totally different 70 years ago, Once my Father left Gravesend he had no communication with anyone until he landed. He had no radio, no navigational aids, no weather forecasts of any note, and the airfields and facilities were dire to say the very least, and he had the constant worry that if he could not find the airfields or land before sunset he would be finished. The tolerance he allowed himself to find and land at Gao was 15 minutes. The next problem my Father had was that whilst he could fly at night, but could not land at night, so landings had to be made at sunrise or sunset where appropriate. Therefore my Father was stuck at Gao for 6 hours both going out and on the return, equally he had to stay in Cape Town for 27 hours so that he made Gao at sunset.

Things have certainly changed some for the good and some not so good, Chalkie did not have the navigational problems, and had his auto pilot worked properly it would have made life a little easier for him. However his avionics packed up on him over France so he had quite a torrid final hour coming into Southend. The bureaucracy in Africa drove him mad, firstly the President closed Brazzaville airport for two hours so Chalkie could not get out, and then in Kano there was fuel waiting for him but the locals were just impossibly inept and the bureaucrats were unbelievably slow and uncooperative, and similarly in Algiers. So the end result was that Chalkie was on the ground for 8 hours, with one less landing; to my Father’s 9 hours, 6 of which were spent at Gao.

All that said my Father did the outward journey in 39 hours 23 minutes to Chalkie’s 36 hours 35 minutes, and the flying times were 30 hours 28 minutes and 28 hours 38 minutes respectively, so the record was beaten both in the air and on the ground. The return journey is more or less the same other than the turn round where my Father was on the ground for 27 hours and Chalkie only for 14 hours.

There were a couple of interesting situations, firstly Cape Town was closed due to fog for 3 hours prior to Chalkie’s take off. Had this happened to my Father in his day he would have taken off anyway, as would Chalkie have done had he been allowed. If my Father had not taken off his record attempt would have had to be postponed as he would not have reached Gao before sunset. Then secondly Chalkie jokingly said that if the storm scope is not fixed at Southend he was not returning to Cape Town, my Father did not have that luxury. The storm scope was not fixed but Chalkie had the courage to go anyway.

On the other side of the coin my Father could not have coped with the air traffic control directing him here, there, and everywhere, so at least he had peace and quiet and was able to fly a direct course to each airfield other than Gravesend to Oran, where he had to go down the Rhone Valley to Marseilles before turning to Oran because of the Spanish Civil War. It was bureaucracy that finally stopped him flying in 1948. He was supposed to pick up his permit to cross the Sahara Desert at Colomb Bechar but could not get in due to the bad weather and returned to Oran, his nominated alternate airfield. After leaving Oran he was supposed to stop at Colomb Bechar and pick up this permit, but he could not waste the time so he threw a note out of the window of the plane saying “I am on my way”. He expected fire works in Oran on his return but the Commandant saluted my Father and wished him “Bon Voyage”.

Both flights were quite extraordinary, both had difficult aircraft to fly, both had problems of one sort or another. I think my Father was a man of his time and I think Chalkie is certainly a man of his time. And do not forget that my Father was only 26 years old, Chalkie is 60 years old. In this context to return to Cape Town after only 10 hours sleep out of the 14 hours stop over, where my Father had two good breaks at Gao and a 27 hour turn round at Cape Town I think Chalkie’s flight, for endurance, far exceeds my Father’s.

I am a little sad that at last someone has broken my Father’s record which has stood for over 70 years, but it has gone to a charming, unassuming, very professional pilot, whose courage, determination, and skill surpasses all others. I have been informed that technically the FAI will not recognize the record as an “old one” broken as Chalkie flew it in the “wrong” direction. So a new one will be registered. As my Father has thrown down the challenge, I understand that Steve Noujaim* is going to attempt to break the “old record” in October, I only hope he has more support from the Nation than Chalkie got on his arrival at Southend.
Best of luck Steve.

Alex Henshaw - Junior.

* In the UK, Steve Noujaim (Cape Challenge) was one of my ground crew and spent many hours trying to resolve an avionics problem I had. Manuel (an RV-6 World-rounder) resolved the problem, it was traced to a loose battery connection! That was an indication of how they inspected the aircraft. They even had the ferry tank out, which required removal of the canopy.

So; Steve plans to take on the Henshaw Challenge. (I did it the 'wrong' way)  He would have done this in February 2009, but for British CAA refusing to give him day / night IFR. British homebuilts are restricted to VFR, but USA / RSA homebuilts can file IFR in the UK; go figure!
So the fight is on, I hope ALL UK homebuilts win this fight....

In October, Steve plans to take on the Henshaw / Stobbart Challenge; one thing I have done is to galvanise UK sponsors to support Steve. When I landed in the UK, Steve advised me that he had received pledges of GBP 10K form one sponsor. It is good for aviation, good for us all.

Alex Henshaw, Steve and others have acknowledged that I have reduced Henshaw's record by almost 19 hours, the nay-sayers can crow to their heart's content, they do not change the facts.

I wish Steve all the best in his quest and a safe flight; I will be in Cape Town to assist.


What went on, so 11,000 people could watch / track the flight via internet.

We had eleven thousand people from just about every country in the world watching the flight on the tracking site at various times over the four days. The peak, understandably, was on the last day where over six thousand people watched. Our hosting provider called us to discuss their concern over the sudden massive increase in traffic to our server in their server farm.
Over fifty gigabytes in three days. We said it was for a worthy cause and suggested they not charge us for it. I think they're still laughing now. What an amazing privilege it has been to be involved with this adventure. Jules The Genius and I flew down to Cape Town with our daughter yesterday to welcome Chalkie home and it was a very special experience for us.

Tim and Jules meeting Chalkie with back of Molly in
right bottom corner.

Wow! What a day yesterday was for us.

As explained previously, I only heard of Chalkie's mission six days before he was due to leave and when I heard that he hadn't been able to find anyone to track the flight my wife and I decided to volunteer for the task. It was an adventure for us trying to make something work in a few days that should have been "properly" done over a few months. During the flight it became obvious to us from the media talking about the tracking site and from the data showing traffic to our server that there was a lot more interest than we had expected. Actually I don't know what we expected, we just jumped right in without really thinking because we thought it would be fun to do it and because it would have been sacrilege for this flight to take place without people being able to follow it.

We got a phonecall yesterday morning from Dolph (a partner in the challenge) and Maureen (Chalkie's wife) inviting us to join them in Cape town to welcome Chalkie home. We didn't need any convincing and tickets for a flight from JHB to CTN were arranged in double quick time. I went to my daughter's school and kidnapped her. Molly (my daughter) burst into tears when I told her why I was fetching her. She was so excited that she was going to meet Chalkie after spending the last week surrounded by nothing but Chalkie stuff around the clock. At the time that she was called out of her class she had been telling her teacher and her class all about Chalkie and what he was busy doing and how her parents were involved.

We raced off to the airport and hoped that nothing went wrong because, even if everything went like clockwork, we would still only arrive in Cape Town with minutes to spare before Chalkie landed.
We landed at Cape Town and were immediately whisked away in a waiting car to the other side of the airport (didn’t realise how big the place actually is) to join the waiting crowd at the hangar where Chalkie would taxi to on landing.

We were immediately greeted and made to feel very important by Chalkie’s partners in the adventure and by his family. They hurriedly gave us special team shirts to put on and we were then allowed out onto the apron to wait for Chalkie, who landed just five minutes after we arrived. It was a VERY close call but our whole week has been like that. Chalkie got out of his plane, hugged his wife and family and then walked a few paces to face a wall of media.

Among his first words: “Where’s Tim?” Jules and I waved and shouted and he called us over, shook our hands and told everyone who we were and what we'd done. We were so chuffed and felt quite humbled. We were approached by one person after another thanking us for making it such a special event by allowing people to follow it.

Some people had had Chalkie parties where they’d invited friends to come over and watch Chalkie’s flight. Other’s showed us pictures on their cellphones of them and their families in their PJs in the middle of the night following the progress and reading my ongoing commentary. We’ve had emails from people all over the place thanking us.

It was just a totally amazing experience! Very hard to describe. We feel incredibly privileged to have been involved.



Contact Gavin Lawson  if you are a homebuilder. I will help you build.

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