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Mon, Mar 24, 2008

Profiles From WAI: Jennifer Murray

"My Life Was Three Dimensional Before, It Became Four Dimensional"

by ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas

Record-setting aviatrix Jennifer Murray shared a few of her aviation adventures with the crowd at the Women in Aviation Conference. Her basic message to the crowd of achievers -- never give up.

"Women in Aviation is a huge force and it's growing all the time." Murray notes.  The energy at the conference impressed Murray. She notes the attendees are focused and will do well in inspiring others.

Murray came into flying by default. "I was, for 54 years, a happy passenger" Murray said. Then her husband "who is rather impulsive" bought a half share in a helicopter. Neither were pilots and her husband informed Murray "I haven't got time to learn, so you'd better."

When the instructor pilot figured she was there to take the "wives course", Murray was looking at a challenge. "After that first flight, I was really hooked. My life was three dimensional before, it became four dimensional."

Murray liked going places and challenges. She found out only four men had circled the globe in a helicopter and it was in jet turbines with autopilot. Murray had a Robinson R-44 and 300 flight hours. In 1997, she decided a woman should make the trip, it would be in her R-44 and she would be the woman. She was not totally crazy... she would have Quentin Smith -- her instructor, and a world-class helicopter pilot -- with her as co-pilot. Not many in the aviation world had the confidence Murray did.

Murray even spoke to Frank Robinson, as she was hoping for a brand new helicopter, Robinson gave her a 1 in 5 chance of success.

"You won't get to Pakistan." Robinson told her. Murray later sent him a postcard on her stop in Pakistan.

Her flight was a success, and Murray had her first entry into the Guinness Book of Records as the first women to circumnavigate the globe. For an encore she decided to make the flight solo. She achieved her solo flight in 2000 and made the Guinness Book of Records again.

With two round the world flights under her belt, Murray decided to make the trip the hard way around -- via the Poles. The pilots would experience the hottest and coldest regions on Earth and everything in between in one long trip. In 2003 Murray and Colin Bodill set out on their attempt around the Poles.

Just 58 days into the trip, they crashed in whiteout conditions. Murray described it "like hitting a brick wall driving a car at 60mph." Murray received superficial injuries but went into shock. Bodill received a broken back, internal injuries and a split liver. He was resigned to his fate but was intent on saving Murray.

The temperature was -50 degrees Centigrade and they were 2,000 miles from anywhere. Modern technology was their savior, their trackerbox pinpointed their location and they were rescued. In 21 hours the two were in Chile with Bodill on the operating table. "You've got to find another helicopter" were some of Bodill's first words to Murray after the ordeal.

Quitting was not on the agenda. With the support of their families, they had another go.

Bell provided a brand new 407 even though as Murray said "we'd just trashed one." Murray believes their motto made the difference, "you haven't failed until you stop trying." Planning each flight required about three years worth of research and seeking sponsors. "Getting to that start line is one whole big exercise in itself." said Murray. December 5, 2006 the duo started their second attempt via the Poles.

Second time was the charm for the duo, and in five and half months they went into the record books again. The flight was by no means uneventful -- with narrow weather windows, huge stretches of open water, auto-rotating through holes in the clouds (risking icing) but Murray has books that tell the tales; Now Solo and Broken Journey.

Murray adds signs of global warming were evident on her trip, even though some stations were reporting the worst weather in years, photos taken in 2003 on the first attempt and then taken again in 2007 showed marked differences, from snow covered to no snow.

Part of Murray's goal on these flights was to raise funds and awareness for two childrens' charities; SOS Children's Villages and Operation Smile. SOS provides family style care for orphaned and abandoned children. Murray and Bodill visited several of the SOS Children's Villages during stops on their journey. Operation Smile's surgeons perform surgery to repair childhood facial deformities.

Just over a week ago, Murray received notice from the National American Helicopter Society. By unanimous vote she and Bodill would receive the Frederick L.Feinberg Award. The award is given for outstanding achievement during the preceding year.

"That's about it for my global circumnavigations and quite obviously I've got to be now looking at the moon." With Murray's tenacity, there's no doubt she'll make it. 

(Some photos shown courtesy of J. Murray, and Polar First)

FMI: www.polarfirst.com

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