THE Australian pilot hoping to become the first person to fly solo to England and back visited Southampton yesterday to pay his respects to fellow countryman and aviation legend Bert Hinkler.

Orm Grace reached the halfway mark of his 44,500km journey on Thursday when the wheels of his tiny Cessna plane touched down at Biggin Hill airfield, outside London.

So far, it has taken him 32 days to travel from the airstrip on his property in Geelong, near Melbourne, to London.

On the way, Orm battled storms, high winds and fog - and narrowly missed one of the worst disasters to hit the world in recent times.

He landed in Ahmadabad, India, just days before the January 26 earthquake ripped through the city - the same city where Hampshire doctor Ashok Nathwani was killed.

"I'm going back to that and I made some friends there so I'm just worried that something might have happened to them," he said.

Despite being in England for just two days before taking off again, Orm squeezed in enough time for a pint at The Hinkler pub in Thornhill.

"I've come all this way so I wanted the local brew but they gave me Fosters," he joked.

He was also hoping to visit the AV Roe factory where Hinkler worked as a test pilot, but had to rush back to Biggin Hill to prepare a flight plan for his marathon journey home.

He is taking the route made famous by Hinkler, who in 1928 became the first person to fly solo to Australia. But when Hinkler attempted to come back three years later his plane crashed in the Italian Alps and he was killed.

But success or not, Orm has already raised £12,000 for charity and he and his plane feature on an Australian stamp.

They were taking off today at 9am. Progress can be seen on