Solo flight ‘round the world’
By BRIAN KELLY
Bainbridge Island Review Editor
December 22, 2011 · Updated 3:16 PM
Islander Harry Anderson wasn’t a likely candidate to take a solo trip “round the world” when he first flew a light airplane in 1998, but 13 years later he was worldly enough to accomplish the rare “RTW” feat.
Anderson, an electrical engineer and software company owner who has lived on Bainbridge since 2002, flew his single-engine Columbia Lancair from Kitsap County and back over a period of about five months – though the actual journey was three months by the time he landed at the Bremerton Airport on Dec. 8.
The original east-to-west flight plan when he left Bremerton last June 27 was to return to locations in the U.S., Britain and France where he had previously worked or visited. But Anderson changed his mind in mid-July while visiting old friends in Bristol, England.
One factor was the intermittent volcanic activity in Iceland, which had initially led Anderson to bring along a 78-gallon ferry fuel tank (replacing two rear seats) in case he needed to take the southern route to Europe. With the supplemental tank, his plane (N788W) would have enough range to hop between islands in the south Pacific in order to safely complete a RTW flight.
So he committed to it, “but my timing was off by flying to Europe in July because of the monsoon that hits India in the summer and doesn’t really subside until late September.”
He could have taken a thing because I returned with the electronic charts that I realized I needed and I was more organized for the trip,” he said. “Plus I met a couple in Bristol who had just completed a year-long flight around the world in a homebuilt aircraft and their route paralleled mine through the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They were a great source of recent information on what they encountered.”
What they encountered, as did Anderson, was a bureaucratic quagmire in many countries, especially in India, and the difficulty in locating small general aviation airports in order to avoid the international airports that are particularly unwelcoming to light aircrafts.
“It’s like, would you rather fly into SeaTac or Boeing Field?” he said.
So with their advice and information, Anderson set off on Oct. 10 for France, flying into Cannes and then visiting old haunts in Provence’s Luberon Valley. He had first visited the valley in 1976 with a Volkswagon Beetle he had bought in Paris for $500 – and sold for the same amount three months later.
While he has visited Provence many times over the years and has seen very little change, his trip to Santorini Island in Greece was an eye-opener for Anderson.
He had visited the southern isle 35 years ago when it was “almost quaint,” but the cruise ships have discovered it and now during the tourist season there’s very little left to like, he said.
By then, some 10 days into his trip, he was happy to leave Europe behind and fly into regions that he knew very little about. He was anxious but “excited” about experience what he termed “the unknown,” at least to him.
He flew south across the Mediterranean Sea for an overnight stop in Luxor, Egypt – just south of Cairo. The next day he flew across Saudi Arabia bound for Dubai, though his takeoff was delayed and his flight rerouted because of “military activity” over the desert.
After touch down at what he considered “the biggest airport I’ve ever landed at,” he got to explore the beaches, its old town and the desert of one of the world’s most spectacular developments. But it’s economy is also in a slump.
“There are still a lot of construction and incredible project that have broken ground inland from Dubai,” he said, “but all the work has stopped and the workers, largely Indians and Pakistanis, have been sent home.”
Stops in India and Bangladesh were fraught with worry because the difficulty of finding fuel and dealing with inflexible bureaucrats, but he loved spending more than a week in Thailand and Singapore.
He also spent several happy days in Australia’s Outback before flying out of a Gold Coast airport bound first for Port Vila, Vanuatu, Pago Pago, American Samoa, and eventually home. But not until he had the only real scare of the trip.
For his last leg from Maui to Monterey, Calif., he was informed that the headwinds over the ocean would be no more than 20 knots, which was reasonable for an aircraft that could cruise economically at an altitude of about 10,000 feet at about 165 knots.
Unfortunately, the headwinds were more like 40 knots and the flight became a grind and a worry since the 204 gallons of fuel he had aboard when lifting off from Maui might not be enough.
“I thought I’d have enough fuel if the headwind didn’t get worse, which it didn’t,” he said. “I also had a lot of conversations with the commercial pilots as they flew above me headed for the states, which really helped.”
He landed in Monterey with about 25 gallons of usable fuel, which would have kept him in the air for about two hours longer if necessary.
Anderson said the best part of the flight was just being in the air being able to see the world from a great perspective.
“Obviously, it just a different view, from 10,000 feet up,” he said. “Flying commercially is OK, but it’s too high to see the farmer working in his fields or the beauty of the land.”
Anderson wrote in his blog (http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog/harry4123/1/tpod.html) daily, using his laptop computer as cruised along on autopilot. He also kept in touch with the world via phone and the plane’s radio.
Part of his blog provides tips and basic technical information that other pilots may use.
The website www.earthrounders.com says it is aware of 94 RTW solo flights since 1930, though the earliest ones involved being shipped over oceans.
Will he do it again? Well, maybe not at age 61, but he’s not ruling it out.
Contact Bainbridge Island Review Editor Brian Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-206-842-6613.