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Four Guys and an R44

The World Record Helicopter Team, consisting of group leader Johan Nurmi and three of his students at the USA Academy of Aviation in Murrieta, Calif., recently piloted a Robinson R44 Raven II across the United States and back again in 59 hours and 58 minutes, besting a previous record that was also set by a team including Nurmi. Nurmi, along with pilots Roy Sciortino, Tyler Kim, and Bill Laggner, piloted Sciortino's R44 Raven II from Brown Field Municipal Airport in San Diego to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia and back again in less than the record time of 70 hours and 19 seconds for that class of helicopter. The team navigated with the help of a Garmin GPSMap 696, along with a set of night vision goggles supplied by sponsor Night Optics USA for observation by a non-flying pilot. During the trip, the team made regular updates to a Web site via cell phone. Strong headwinds and high fuel consumption forced them to abandon their original plan to refuel every 2.5 hours, said Nurmi: "We had to put away the flight plan we had made and start a new one with much shorter legs."  They also went off their original course to avoid thunderstorms and to follow a well-lit freeway at night to avoid flying over featureless Southeastern land. Just 70 miles out from Brown Field on the return trip, the team had to deal with 30-knot winds and growing fatigue, but they knew that the forecast called for coastal fog and mist, so they had no choice but to keep moving forward. Finally, they set the new record with their landing at 6:08 p.m. on April 22, greeted by family and friends with hugs, high-fives, and champagne. The coastal fog appearing as predicted during the celebration, and Nurmi said, "If we would have come an hour later, we would not have been able to land and our record would have been in jeopardy."

May 3, 2009

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