The Burberry Comet Racer Project
In 2009 the Sywell Aviation Museum and Sywell Aerodrome acquired a 7/8ths scale replica of a DH.88 Comet Racer - presently painted in its earlier 'Grosvenor House' scheme. It was commissioned by the then owners of the Galleria Shopping Centre in Hatfield and remained on show, suspended from the roof, for over 20 years. In 2006 it was removed by the new owners and passed to another Museum from where it was brought to Sywell.
In its removal, the airframe suffered some damage, and though repairable, it will need some money spent on it prior to going on display. It is a superb replica resplendent with propellers, undercart and even detailled exhaust stubs!
The Burberry Racer Project has been established to raise funds to refurbish the machine and place it on show at Sywell Aerodrome, only a few miles away from where Betty Heycock spent most of her life. It will be repainted in The Burberry scheme it wore at the time of the Cape Record.
Some £6,000 is needed to achieve its refurbishment and installation in memory of Betty Heycock at her 'home' aerodrome. No replica of The Burberry Racer is extant worldwide - we aim to remedy this!
If you can help,would like to make a donation, would like more information or can assist with details of the precise colours of The Burberry scheme please contact Ben Brown by email or by telephone on 07968 061708.
Betty Heycock (nee Kirby-Greene) 1906-1992
The Unsung Aviatrix
Born in Thurlestone, Devon in 1926. Betty Kirby-Greene developed an early interest in flying and in 1926 took her first flight as a passenger in a de Havilland Gypsy Moth from Heston, delivering papers during the General Strike. She immediately caught the aviation 'bug' and was determined to learn to fly!
In 1937 she obtained her 'A' Pilots Licence at Heston aerodrome which permitted her to fly 3 miles from the aerodrome solo. A member of the 'Hay Hill Club' bet her £100 that she could not fly from London to Paris solo within two weeks and she immediately took up the challenge. Begging and borrowing the money from friends she hired a Moth and after an eventful journey made it to Le Bourget at won her bet - with just half a gallon of fuel left in her petrol tank.
Thereafter she worked towards her 'B' Licence and retained a small Klemm CL.3 aircraft on loan from a friend. She was introduced to the famed aviator F/O A.E. Houston who was keen to break a new aviation record. They hired the de Havilland DH.88 'Comet' racer G-ACSS (known as 'Grosvenor House') which had won the famous Mildenhall-Melbourne MacRoberston Air Race in 1934 when piloted by C.W.A. Scott and T. Campbell-Black (the aircraft is preserved at The Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden, Beds).
More tortuous fund-raising efforts followed, and the attempt was sponsored by Burberry Ltd the clothing manufacturers. The red Comet was repainted Burberry beige and titled 'The Burberry'.
They departed Croydon on the 14th November 1937 and smashed the London-Cairo record in 11hours four minutes (beating the previous record by 30 minutes). They continued on to Cape Town, arriving there in a total time of 45 hours two minutes (averaging 155.52mph) and breaking the previous record by more than 33 hours!
Betty later married F/O George Heycock in 1938 who later rose to the rank of Air Commodore following active service as a fighter pilot during the War. He later became Air Attaché in Washington and Paris. The Heycock family hailed from Pytchley Hall in Northamptonshire and Betty & George settled there in 1948 and remained there until George passed away in 1988 and Betty in 1992.
She remains an inspiration to female aviators the world over for her spirit and determination to succeed - whatever the odds.
Photographs and copy news items come from Betty Heycock's Autobiography 'Put it down to experience' published by Marlow Durndell 1991 and remain copyright of the respective owners and The Heycock Estate.