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Flier's Flight Plan: The Paris-to-Paris Race

February 09, 1992|LINDA FELDMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Flight charts cover the living room floor of Ilse de Vries' Brentwood home these days.

Every day, De Vries, 64, studies the route she plans to follow in her Beechcraft Bonanza in an around-the-world, Paris-to-Paris air race this summer. She will be the only woman flying a single-engine plane in the international competition for light aircraft.

Eventually, she will cut up 12 charts to form a scroll, because there's no room in the plane to spread out a chart.

There are other preparations. She goes to the Sports Training Institute in Sepulveda three times a week to get in shape for the grueling trip. She's outfitting her plane--which she has named Miranda--with a new engine, new instruments and global radio equipment.

"I'm a devout coward and have a deep respect for flying," she explains.

And she's looking for sponsors to cover the $300,000 cost of the trip, which begins June 20 and ends July 11.

"Let's face it, if I don't do it now I'll never do it," she says. "It's an incredible test of endurance and when a woman my age does something like this there's also a feeling of being a role model, so I'm going to succeed."

De Vries says she took her first flying lesson 19 years ago, the day after her husband of 23 years said he was leaving her for another woman.

"I unwillingly exchanged a beloved husband for an airplane," she says. "I learned to fly wearing dark sunglasses which hid the tears in my eyes because I felt compelled to create my own challenge and not be a victim," she said. Now, with more than 4,000 flying hours she's ready for a new challenge.

The race will take her across eastern Europe, Russia and Siberia. She'll cross the Bering Strait to Alaska, Canada and the United States. She'll follow the East Coast north to Greenland, then make the final jump over the North Atlantic to Europe.

Ilse de Vries is a fighter. When she lost money in investments several years ago she decided to handle her financial affairs herself. She became a stockbroker and passed her licensing exam in 1984. She is also an abstract painter, a sculptor, tennis player and aspiring writer. Her spy novel has been rejected by 28 publishers so far, but De Vries is nothing if not persistent.

And she is a volunteer. Working with Flying Samaritan, a Los Angeles-based charity, she flies doctors, nurses and dentists to rural areas in Baja California where medical care is urgently needed.

"Sometimes my plane is filled with just toys," she says of her trips to Mexico. "It gives me so much joy to do this." De Vries also flies missions for the American Medical Support Flight Team.

For the next five months Ilse de Vries will maintain a rigorous schedule, but her emphasis is on having a good time.

"I believe that everyone has the power within to create fun and joy along with their own challenges. . . . This is an adventure more than it is a race for me."

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