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HOW TO FLY AROUND THE WORLD
One could write dozens of books on the methods, the itineraries, types of aircraft, etc., to be used to make a successful flight around the world. Here are a few thoughts and tips gleaned along...:
1. The Pilot :
The pilot should have some experience, but it is impossible to give a minimum number of flying hours as it depends on the pilot, of his or hers natural ability in the air, and the circumstances involved. As an example, Jerrie Mock is probably the pilot with the least number of hours when she flew around the world. Jerrie had only 750 hours at the commencement of her world flight, and finished with 900 hours. Young Baron Konieg-Warthaussen and Mrs. Bruce may also be mentioned for beginning their flights with only a few hours experience, although it must be noted that their aircraft were shipped over the oceans on liners.
In my view, what matters more than the number of flying hours a pilot has logged, is experience in one's aircraft, of long flights, and of flights made to foreign countries with a different environment. As experience cannot be purchased, one should acquire it by making longer and longer flights each time, starting in one's own country before flying abroad. European pilots could cross the Mediterranean to start, and in summer could fly across the Atlantic via Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and return. American pilots could choose to fly to Canada or Mexico before crossing the Atlantic to Europe. Such flights are within the reach of any aircraft with a speed of 140 knots and would make a good 'dress rehearsal' for longer crossings and a flight around the world. For my own 'dress rehearsal', I flew from Australia to Hong Kong via Ambon in Indonesia and Manila in the Philippines. The longest leg was 1200 nautical miles and my aircraft was equipped with 2 ferry tanks. This flight confirmed that I would need more fuel to cross the Pacific.
IFR Rating :
Passport and Visas :
Health precautions :
2. The aircraft :
One needs an aircraft with a speed of at least 140 knots, and capable of a good range. This can be achieved with ferry tanks fitted in the cabin ; or in some aircraft, tip tanks on the wings. Some pilots flew around the world with very light aircraft : Peter Norvill used his Cessna XP ; and Truman and Evans had Super Cubs. Mrs. Bruce, Baron Koneig-Warthausen and Elly Beinhorn also flew very small aircraft, but in their case, it was necessary to ferry the airplanes across the water in ocean liners. However, it can be done, even in micro-lights, but this is even more difficult.
To make legs a comfortable length, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the aircraft should have a speed of not less than 140 knots. As an example, at the bottom of the scale, a Cessna 206, A Piper Lance or a Bonanza might be chosen. The Beechcraft Bonanza has been used by many pilots, with or without tip tanks. The aircraft must carry enough fuel for legs of at least 1,000 nautical miles. To cross the Pacific Ocean on the 'classic' route which is between Hawaii and California, with a distance of 2,100 NM, a enormous quantity of fuel is required. Ferry tanks fitted in the cabin ; or tip tanks for the Bonanza are needed. The tanks have to be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority, and meet some criteria. They can be very simple, as in the use of fuel drums strapped to the floor, or elaborate, where the tanks are bolted on to the seat rails. Fuel is pumped to the main tank by electric pumps, preferably two. It may be wise to add an emergency hand pump. (In this case it may pay to have a strong copilot). The quantity of fuel to be carried may lead to the aircraft being overweight, though up to 10% is generally not a problem. However, the position of the Center of Gravity may vary with different weights and it will be necessary to check this out at different stages of fuel consumption.
To know more on how to use the aircraft pressurization to help transfer fuel from the cabin to the main tank, a good description can be found on the 'Doug Caybe and John Fulton' Internet site :
The Global Position System or GPS has revolutionized navigation and has become an indispensable tool. Its indications should always be cross referenced with conventional modes of navigation. One should never rely on a single system. The choice of GPS is generally dictated by the amount of money one can afford, as they range from pocket models, to sets with moving maps. They are all good and will do the job. If finances allow, a spare set on independent batteries would be an asset in the case of total electrical power loss. Also, a portable battery operated VHF transceiver could prove useful in such an emergency. Some sets can be used with normal aviation headphones.
On very long legs where fuel is critical, a good fuel counter is necessary to give the hourly fuel burn, and the time remaining at that fuel rate. Combined with a good Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) indicator, one can lean efficiently without risk of burning exhaust valves and turbo chargers.
Single versus twin :
On a leg of moderate length, a twin loosing an engine will very likely finish the flight, but on a very long leg where the fuel burn will be increased and the speed decreased, it may not. However, if an emergency landing or ditching is to be made, hopefully there will be some time to divert and call for help, or even to find a ship and ditch near by.
The single, having only one engine, will burn half the fuel a twin would burn and so with an equal amount of fuel, the single will fly further. To add the second engine, doubling the power and the fuel burn would only increase the speed by a mere 20 to 30%. On a leg of moderate length, a twin on a single engine should be able to carry on and land safely. It is imperative to know the Point of no Return (PNR) 'red' that is taking the single engine speed after the engine failure. On a very long leg, such as crossing of the Pacific Ocean, there is a zone after the PNR where if an engine fails, the aircraft will not be able to turn back (of course, since this is after the PNR) but will not make the destination. It will only make it if the failure occurs very late in the flight.
Very long legs have been flown with singles, the pilots having taken the risk of having only one engine. The Aerostar with 400 USG can fly for 2,400 NM while a Lancair 4 will fly for 3000 NM at almost the same speed. Another comparison can be made between the Aerostar and the Malibu. Both aircraft have Lycoming 540 engines with similar load capacities, but the Malibu can fly more than 6, 000 NM.
Although modern aircraft engines are very safe, they are not infallible, and therefore a risk that a pilot must be prepared to take.
By looking at statistics, on 132 known flights around the world, only 35 were twins. Bonanzas are the singles mostly used. Also among the flights around the world very few have had engine failures. One of these failure is very well documented on the 'Earthrounders' site :
To conclude, singles fly further than twins, but are slightly slower and less safe. Twins fly faster and in general are safer than singles, but the price to pay is the necessity to carry a lot more fuel.
The oil burning rate is very important too. Indeed, it is no use to have huge amount of fuel if the engine is going to burn all its oil before the end of a leg. The amount of oil the engine uses must be checked during many flights before the 'big flight' to make sure there will be some oil left in the engine at the end of a very long leg. For my longest leg between Hawaii and California I did overfilled the engines by 3 quarts and I still had 9 quarts left after 11 hours flying time. At a very low power setting, the oil burn is less than on a flight with a higher power setting.
It is necessary to carry a fair amount of oil as it is not uncommon to be able to refuel at some airports and find they have no oil. This can be replaced at airports where oil is available.
Thorough preparations are the key to a successful flight, and time spent in preparation is an investment that will bear fruit throughout the flight.
Secondly, a choice of the countries to overfly is required, with some countries being 'easy', some 'difficult', and some simply 'impossible '. As an example, one cannot fly into an Arab country after having been to Israel. Another consideration should be political events such as wars, national unrest, and national and religious festivities. In Muslim countries it is best to avoid the time of Ramadan. Until now, in order to cross Russia, the authorities there impose on board a 'navigator-translator', and therefore a seat must be reserved for him.
Decisions to take days off must also be thought out. It could be every fourth day, or even every second day off, except when attempting a speed record, and even then one needs to be very aware that extreme fatigue can lead to accidents.
Typical oceanic itineraries :
Independently of a clearance, it is very useful and sometimes necessary to have an 'agent' at the airport of arrival. This is also a service that has to be paid for. In Asia especially, it is almost impossible to get through the multiple formalities without the help of an agent. He knows where all the different offices are ; where and how to contact customs, immigration, the refueller, how to get a taxi and so on. In the US, Canada, Iceland and Scotland, the local FBO will come and offer their services immediately after landing. I used an agent in Pago Pago, Fiji, Cairo, Bahrain, Muscat and Madras.
Very useful information on Clearances and details on airports and countries are being gathered from pilots "who have been there" and are displayed here
Maps and Approach Plates :
Base for support :
PNR, ETP :
Flight plans :
Customs Declarations :
Model of General Declaration, (can be printed) : Click here for a model of Gen Dec
The 'GenDec' must be stamped and signed by Customs at the place of departure, as this will be the first thing the customs officers will demand at the next landing point. For this reason it should be kept in a convenient and handy place. Some countries want it in many copies (up to 12, but normally 3 are sufficient).
Another point to remember, is the requirement of some countries to spray the interior of arriving aircraft with an insecticide before the doors are open. Some countries will accept this being carried out by the crew during the last stages of the flight, and may ask to see the can of insecticide. Insular countries like Australia and New Zealand are very strict on this, and one should not open the doors and alight without the proper permission.Military bases :
In the middle of each major ocean there is a strategically placed military base which could very well be used by civilian pilots crossing those oceans. However, the military do not like civilian pilots using their bases, and normally prohibit their use.
Don Taylor landed on Midway in 1976 with his T18. He had to stay 16 days waiting for permission 'to land'. When the permission came, the US Air Force could not do to much to help him. From Midway, his next leg was to take him to Adak in the Aleoutian . It happened that a transport aircraft flew to Adak at the same time, giving him weather and wind information all along the leg.
The Internet Site of the Peace Movement Aotearoa of New Zealand gives a lot of information on Johnston Island :
4. Survival equipment :
The chances of survival in the case of an incident or accident depend on the preparation, the state of mind and of the equipment available.
The first thing to have is a life jacket. One model is worn in a pouch on a belt and can be set with only one hand. Over water in a single engine aircraft, the life jacket must be worn all the time as there is no room to put them on and there will be no time to do so.
The next thing to have is a life raft with a roof. The raft must have a rope which can be hooked onto one the crew members' belt. Indeed, the raft when inflated will drift in the wind and will disappear in no time. A kit, containing water, food, flares, space blanket, and a marine radio set on the maritime distress channel (16), is necessary. Each crew member should have within easy reach, a hat, suncream and a personal ELT operating on 121.5 and 243 and now on 406 MHz. The aircraft ELT if it burns or sinks will be of little use.
The crew must also know how to evacuate the aircraft quickly in the case of a ditching. Land aircraft are not made to float, and sink very quickly.
In the cold waters of the North Atlantic, a thermal suit is necessary. Without protection, survival in cold water is only a
matter of minutes, even in summer. The thermal suits give flotation and protection from the extreme cold. With a thermal suit,
survival could be extended to hours, rather than minutes. In a single engine aircraft, thermal suits must be worn at all times
as there is not enough room in the cockpit to don them, nor is there enough time. The suits are warm, cumbersome
and uncomfortable, but it is possible to leave the top open, and to close it should the need arise. Horst Ellenberger went
down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when an oil line broke in his Bonanza. The story of his survival can be read on the 'Earthrounders' site on the 'Press' page :
For more information on survival visit :
5. The flight :
Independently of all other considerations, such as flight plans, amount of fuel to be carried, PNR, etc., there are four things that are of prime importance in order to fly a long leg :
Not to be cold :
To be able to urinate :
Flight settings :
6. Internet Site :
It is now very fashionable to have an Internet Site describing the flight.
Unfortunately too many of those sites spend a lot of space in singing the proweses of the pilot and also in begging for donations to fund the trip and are lacking the basic information on the flight itself. One would expect such a site to give regularly the position of the aircraft and its pilot, arrival at destinations, etc, precisely with dates and times. And of course a link to the tracker system.
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Copyright Claude Meunier & Margi Moss, 2000 - 2018