What’s your idea of the dream adventure of a lifetime? It probably involves flying a high-performance, luxury airplane to exotic lands on a leisurely schedule, staying at five-star hotels along the way. And what about having agents setting up your flight plans, securing overflight permits, providing your meals, and giving you tours of scenic and historic locations as well? Turns out that such an adventure can indeed be yours—for $55,000 per head. Air Journey LLC, a Jupiter, Florida-based tour operator specializing in high-end general aviation guided tours, recently offered the first of its planned annual around-the-world trips.
Your intrepid correspondent went along on the first four legs of this year’s round-the-world (RTW) adventure, to savor the flights and sights, as well as share in the camaraderie of the trip’s 16 participants. By the time I returned to the United States, I’d flown with six of the pilots. In turn, I flew in a Beech “Royal Turbine” Duke conversion that uses Pratt & Whitney PT6A-35 engines of 550-shp (instead of the stock 380-horsepower Lycoming pistons); a Cessna Conquest II; a TBM 700A; and a brand-new Cessna Mustang. Unlike other oceanic trips I’d made, this crossing was done in style, with two-hour legs instead of six or seven, and cruise speeds of 300 knots-plus instead of 120 to 170 knots.
The trip began on May 14, with a staging stop at Quebec City, Canada’s Jean-Lesage International Airport. As would become typical, the first two nights of the trip were spent in luxury at Quebec’s historic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, located in the historic section of this picturesque town. By the morning of May 15, all the group members—fitted out in individualized Air Journey RTW shirts and parkas—had left Jean-Lesage for Goose Bay, Labrador. This first leg was over the remote landscape of Canada’s Laurentian highlands, and I rode shotgun with Jeff Yusem in his PT6-powered Duke.
Like the rest of the pilots in the group, Yusem began flying in the late 1960s, then moved up the ranks. First he owned a Piper Arrow, then a Cessna 182, a Cessna P210, and an Allison-powered turbine conversion of a P210. Finally, he bought his turbine Duke conversion—the fifth such conversion performed by Northwest Turbine LLC. “I was looking for airplanes around $1 million, and checked out King Airs and Twin Commanders,” he said. “But I liked the Royal Turbine Duke for its speed and hot-and-high performance.” Yusem lives in Aspen, Colorado, where he is a real estate developer.
Yusem’s Duke is indeed a performer. Unlike the stock, piston-powered version, Yusem’s Duke leapt off the runway and was still climbing at 1,800 fpm—doing 170 KIAS—passing through FL200. On the way to Goose Bay, our cruise speed was 290 KTAS at FL270, while total fuel burn was just 66 gph, or 442 pph. That’s just a tad more than a single-engine TBM 700’s fuel burn!
Yusem uses his airplane for business as well as personal trips. He shuttles back and forth to his second home in Palm Springs, and visits his children in Seattle, Oakland, and Pittsburgh. A year ago, he went on another Air Journey trip—to the Galapagos Islands.
Like the rest of the pilots on the RTW trip, Yusem may be a man of means, but he came from humble beginnings. “I remember when I bought my first house. I was struggling, and I was terrified,” he said. “I kept saying to my wife, ‘How in the world can I keep on making these $87-a-month mortgage payments?’”
Yusem and the rest of the RTW crew spent the night in lovely Goose Bay—a town that owes its existence to hunting, fishing, and a NATO air base—cooking our own steaks at Trapper’s Steak House and sleeping through a sunny “night” at Hotel North.
My next flights were with Bill Anastos and Dottie Thompson. Bill, a patent attorney from Boston, had been president and CEO of Rule Industries, a manufacturer of pumps and other marine equipment. Now he’s retired and cruises the world in his 1981 Cessna Conquest II twin turboprop. “I like the jet-like performance of the Conquest II,” Bill said. “I routinely file for FL330, where I can cruise at 300 knots and have a 2,200-nm range.” All this while burning 500 pph, or 74 gph, for both engines. This makes our next leg—from Goose Bay to Nuuk, Greenland—a piece of cake. It was a mere two hours ramp to ramp for the 677-nm leg, landing with gobs of fuel to spare. And the weather was severe clear all the way.
For the past 12 years, Bill has been flying with Dottie Thompson, an American who lives on a yacht in Boca de Toros, Panama. Dottie owned air taxi businesses in southern Florida, and flew everything from Cessna Citations to Piper Aztecs, deHavilland Twin Otters, and Cessna 402s. Though Bill has some 6,000 total hours, 400 hours in the Conquest, and flew on business as far away as Turkey, he asked Dottie to help out on a trip to Mexico. Ever since, the two have been flying companions (Dottie’s husband, Larry, would join the RTW trip on a later leg). Dottie says her proudest accomplishment was being an AOPA mentor to her 17-year-old daughter Laura Elizabeth—who’s now 21, with a CFII, 2,600 hours, and a job flying night express in Cessna 210s.
Bill and Dottie flew me from Nuuk to Reykjavik, Iceland, in another two-hours-and-change flight. The pilot of another airplane in the group said that we were leaving contrails en route. In Reykjavik, we toured the countryside, saw the site of the first parliament at a huge, remote cliff called Thingvellir, saw geysers in action, swam in the famed Blue Lagoon, and stayed at the upscale Hotel Borg. Bill and Dottie would leave the group the next day, bound for a visit to Bill’s alma mater at Oxford, England. They’d rejoin us in a couple days in Paris.
Butch Stevens made a career in NASCAR by building racecar chassis, heat shields, and other gear for drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Daryl Waltrip, and many others. “I also bought Jack Roush his first headset,” Butch said. “Now he’s a pilot, too.”
Now Butch is involved in manufacturing heat shields for NASA. He lives in the Spruce Creek, Florida, fly-in community, learned to fly in a Piper Cherokee 140, then partnered in a Cessna Cardinal RG and Cessna 182RG. After that, he stepped up to a Glasair III, then a Piper Aerostar 700P, and a Piper Cheyenne I. His current airplane is a 1992 Socata TBM 700A. Not surprisingly, Butch has set up a company that sells, among other items, TBM exhaust covers using his heat-shielding materials. His offerings are on view online.
He and Diane use the TBM to visit their many real estate holdings (they’ve built 28 homes and commercial buildings) and shuttle back and forth between Spruce Creek and Charlotte, North Carolina. The RTW trip gave Butch his first North Atlantic crossing. “This is the first time in five years that I’ve had a week off,” he said.
My leg with Butch and Diane went from Reykjavik to Inverness, Scotland. Butch claimed that by removing the TBM’s radar pod he could cruise at 315 KTAS at FL270. We trued out at 298 KTAS at FL260, a slower speed owing to the higher-than-standard temperatures that day. Our fuel burn for such a high (110-percent torque) power setting and cool (716 degrees Celsius; 800 degrees is redline) interturbine temperature (ITT) was a low 60.1 gph. “I like being above the weather,” Stevens says. “That, and the pressurization.”
In Scotland, the group toured Cawdor Castle, Loch Ness (no, no monster sightings), and downtown Inverness. At the end of the day, it was time to sit around the coal-powered fireplace at our lodgings at Bunchrew House Hotel, taste some single-malt Scotch, and dine looking out on the Beauly Firth.
Tracy Forrest, lucky guy, picked up his brand-new Cessna Mustang in August 2007, and had put more than 200 hours on it by the time of the RTW trip. Forrest, a major contractor, simply says he’s in “bricks and sticks”—meaning construction of all manner of buildings. He started flying in the early 1990s, then bought a Cessna 182, a Piper Saratoga, and a TBM 700 before getting his Mustang. “I wanted to go higher and faster, it’s that simple. My goal was to be able to fly two couples with luggage on a weekend trip, and also be able to fly my employees to construction sites,” Forrest says.
“Now, I could do it in other airplanes, but they wouldn’t be as fast as the Mustang, and they wouldn’t be as cool.” Forrest, based in Winter Park, Florida, also has a turbine Maule on floats that he flies 50 to 100 hours per year. As for the Mustang, he says he’ll log about 300 hours per year in its front office.
“I’ve always been looking for a second home, but not right now,” he continued. “With this airplane, the world is my second home.”
John Hayes had just finished earning his Mustang type rating, and is awaiting delivery of his new Mustang. He flew along with Forrest to build time as well as experience the RTW adventure. Hayes, a Tucson native, owns 4D Technology, a company that specializes in optical measurement of computer and optical equipment. That includes such exotic gear as the James Webb Space Telescope, set for a future launch into deep space.
Like the rest, Hayes learned to fly in small, piston singles—in his case, a Cherokee 140. Then it was on to ownership of a Piper Comanche 260, a Beech B36TC Bonanza, a Piper Malibu Mirage, and a TBM 700. John’s affinity for TBMs led to his being the president of the TBM Owners and Pilots Association (TBMOPA).
Of the step-up to the Mustang, Hayes said, “It’s my time. I’ve got the right kind of experience, FlightSafety International said I was a perfect candidate for good insurance, and at this stage of my life I figure I owe myself this step-up.”
Hayes and Forrest flew me from Inverness to the Pontoise airport, just outside of Paris. Talk about getting spoiled! The Mustang was super-smooth and quiet, and in 27 minutes we climbed to our cruise altitude of FL410. Even passing through FL380, Forrest’s Mustang still climbed at 600 fpm. In cruise, we trued out at 323 KTAS/Mach 0.567, burning a total of 71gph, or 240 pph per engine. After an hour and a half, Hayes engaged the vertical nav function of the Mustang’s G1000 avionics suite, and we began a descent to 5,000 feet for vectors to the ILS Runway 5 approach to Pontoise. Total time for the trip: two hours even. That’s travelling in style.
Even more stylish was our subsequent four-day stay in Paris, ensconced in the luxurious Hotel Plaza Athenee. The days were spent at the Louvre, Notre Dame, and many other famous places. The nights were spent at equally famous restaurants—including the exquisite Restaurant Jules Verne, located atop the Eiffel Tower. But just as I had become accustomed to wallowing deep in luxury, it was time for me to leave the group. The rest would go on to such places as Egypt, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and China—well, not exactly. Bureaucrats in the Peoples Republic of China denied the group entry. But the final stops in South Korea, Russia, and Alaska went well. Eventually the group made its way to the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where RTW 2008 ends. Next year, maybe I’ll go again. If you’re interested, go online and then talk to Air Journey’s Thierry Pouille about the arrangements. It’ll be a trip you’ll never forget.