Bill Harrelson, a distance-record-setting pilot, plans to abandon a double-polar flight after encountering adverse weather at the bottom of the world.
Harrelson, 68, had flown his modified Lancair IV to Punta Arenas, Chile, last week and expected to overfly the South Pole on his way to New Zealand. But icing conditions over the Southern Ocean, and now severe headwinds and the onset of winter, have convinced him to return home instead.
“I’ve been spending many hours in the (weather) office at the airport,” he said in an email March 22. “There is a window tomorrow that would provide an ice free flight to Antarctica but with severe turbulence and winds of up to 70 knots, a substantial component of which would be headwind. If I took that window, I’d also have to deal with very strong headwinds from Antarctica to New Zealand, a portion of the route that almost always produces tailwinds. Making New Zealand with dry feet could be problematic.
“The likelihood of finding a window that is free of ice and has acceptable winds is decreasing very, very rapidly. It’s just too late in what has been an unusually bad season.”
Harrelson departed for Key West, Fla., on March 24—a 30-hour, nonstop flight—and says he’s looking forward to getting home to Fredericksburg, Va., soon after.
“It is with great disappointment that I officially throw in the towel and give up the attempt,” he said. “I have a MUCH better understanding now about why this is such a difficult and rarely attempted record.”