Record-setting pilot on the move

March 18, 2013

Bill Harrelson

Editor's note: Bill Harrelson has canceled his double-polar flight after encountering adverse weather.

Bill Harrelson, the record-setting pilot and builder of a highly modified Lancair IV, is in southern Chile waiting out bad weather near Antarctica before resuming his round-the-world polar record attempt.

“Bottom line, there is an occluded front over the Southern Ocean that promises a virtual 100 percent probability of icing,” said Harrelson, 68, of Fredericksburg, Va., a retired airline captain. “It sits in perfect position to impact my route and there is a blocking high over the southern Atlantic making movement of this front extremely slow. I will be over the Southern Ocean very soon after takeoff and at a weight that would make any icing at all absolutely unacceptable.”

Harrelson is attempting to set a record for an around-the-world flight that covers both the north and south poles. He started in Bangor, Maine, and flew nonstop to Recife, Brazil, and then to Punta Arenas, Chile. If the weather clears, his next stops will be Christchurch, New Zealand; Honolulu, Hawaii; Nome, Alaska; and Bangor.

Lancair IV“The Southern Ocean is the most dangerous and challenging area of this trip and I’ve got to cross it twice,” Harrelson said. “Interior Antarctica actually presents less weather hazard although it certainly has its own unique challenges.”

The weather forecasts show that March 20 will likely present the first opportunity for the crossing so Harrelson plans to depart that afternoon. If not, winter is fast approaching in the Southern Hemisphere, so good weather is likely to be harder to find.

Harrelson’s airplane has been modified to carry 361 gallons of avgas. In February, he set a world distance record for his class aircraft by flying nonstop from Guam to Jacksonville, Fla. That 38.5-hour trip covered 8,114 statute miles.

“The polar record has been a goal of mine for a very long time but I’m still sane enough, although barely, to know when to throw in the towel,” Harrelson said. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Wednesday.”

One can follow Harrelson’s progress online.

Guam to Jacksonville map