French microlight pilot realises her dream to fly solo across Africa

French nurse Rachel Muller had been flying microlights for 10 years when the idea came to her, and admits that it had become something of an obsession

13 October 2021

'I didn’t take any risks; every step was organised and planned in advance. I knew exactly which airfields I would fly to, how much fuel I would use, who would meet me, where we would go' says Rachel Muller of her solo flight Pic: Courtesy of Rachel Muller

By Samantha David

French nurse Rachel Muller has told how she fulfilled a lifelong dream to fly solo in a microlight across Africa.

“It was in 2019, before Covid of course, and the trip took two months,” says Rachel Muller (50). She had been flying her Coyote microlight for 10 years when the idea came to her. “I just had to find a way of getting to Africa and flying there! I looked at all the possibilities – where and when, whether to rent an aircraft, or take my own...”

Her partner Claude is also a pilot. “I learned a lot travelling around Europe with him, and used to go fly my microlight to see Roxane in Switzerland, but I really wanted to fly in Africa, to see the views, the countryside and the animals, the different colours. I really wanted to see all that.” Right from the beginning, no-one wanted to go with her, and in the end she felt that taking her own ULM (ultra-léger motorisé) was the only practical way.

“I like to know a machine very well before I fly it, and I know my microlight from A-Z, so I had to find a way to take the wings off and put it in a container. I had to learn how to do that so I could put them on again at the other end.”

Rachel Muller

Rachel Muller flew her microlight across the continent of Africa | Photo: Skyhawk photography

Flying her Coyote to Africa would have taken too long; as a nurse, Rachel does not have unlimited time off. “So I packed it up and sent it off in April, every piece marked and in it’s own bag.

Other pilots, who had already been to Africa, helped me do it, and helped me pack it into a container.”

Her daughter Roxane (27) was always completely in favour, although the rest of her family were frightened for her. “Claude thought it was too dangerous for a solo woman in Africa. I had already flown in Morocco as a co-pilot and people said ‘why don’t you just do that again?’ but I wanted to fulfil my dream.”

Rachel’s journey took her through Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. She chose smaller places where there was a simple sand or gravel runway and a lodge, because she was more interested in seeing the countryside than the big cities.

She prepared her aircraft before sunrise each day in order to fly before the heat was too intense, and flew between 1-3 hours every day.

Rachel Muller

Microlight views such as Victoria Falls | Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Muller

“I didn’t take any risks; every step was organised and planned in advance. I knew exactly which airfields I would fly to, how much fuel I would use, who would meet me, where we would go.

“I had all the permits in advance. The aim was to fly from the West to the East coast. I did 50 hours of flying, and covered 7,000 kilometres, but I only got to Victoria before I ran out of time.”

Long solo flights involve a lot of flight prep, route-planning, and maintenance. “I’d still like to fly to the West coast, but perhaps with Claude next time. But who knows? Flying is quite egoistic, and now I know you have to follow your dreams despite all the gloomy warnings, and other people’s forebodings.

African vistas

Incredible African vistas from Rachel Muller's microlight | Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Muller

“Women can fulfil their dreams. I wanted to see if I could do it. And I did. I didn’t even have a flat tyre while I was there, although I took a spare tyre with me!”

A new book by Roxane Dupuy, Au-Dessus des Déserts Oser l’Aventure, details all the preparations as well as the journey itself.

It is published by Editions de l’Officine (€11.50) and available online.

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