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Pilot to overfly both poles in earth-rounding bid

A retired airline pilot flying a modified Lancair IV single-engine airplane was en route from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Punta Arenas, Chile, on Dec. 30, on the second leg of a renewed attempt to circumnavigate the globe via a route that overflies the North and South poles.

Pilot Bill Harrelson of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was cruising at 12,000 feet, and upon landing in Chile would begin preparations for the 5,386-nautical mile, 27-hour leg that would take him from Chile across the South Pole to a landing in Hamilton, New Zealand, said Glenn Oxford, a member of Harrelson’s ground support team, during a telephone interview.

"Everything will rest on this third leg," Oxford, also an airline pilot, and a former Naval aviator, said. The ground team was keeping an eye on some weather in southern Argentina, hopeful that the conditions would move east, away from Harrelson’s route south in the Barrett IO-550-engine-powered Lancair, which has been modified to carry a long-range fuel load of 361 gallons.

Harrelson, whose progress is being followed by the public on a "ZQ Pilot" Facebook page, and on the real-time tracking site Spidertracks, began his journey Dec. 28 in Kinston, North Carolina, landing in Montevideo after almost 29 hours of flight.

The ground support team, which also includes earthrounder and record-holder CarolAnn Garratt, mostly communicates with Harrelson by texting, although email and satellite phone communications are usually possible. Also, using the flight-tracking site, "He can push a button and leave a mark," added Oxford, noting, "It’s a crude form of communication."

Harrelson is having another go at the record-setting flight after being turned away in March 2013 by adverse weather around the South Pole. Harrelson—who watches South Pole weather the way most people check the forecasts for their hometowns, Oxford said—used to think that March was the ideal time for the trip. After the setback, and "with the weather window closing" by April on an unusually unfavorable season, he decided that late December might prove a better chance to avoid the potential threats of icing and unfavorable winds, Oxford said.

The reversal in 2013 wasn’t the end of long-distance flying for Harrelson on that effort. His stateside return was accomplished with a 27-hour nonstop flight from the southern tip of South America to a landing in Key West, Florida. Harrelson was already the record-holder for distance flown in the aircraft, having made a flight in February 2013 from Guam to Jacksonville, Florida, a distance of 7,051 nm, in 38 hours, 29 minutes, according to his Facebook page.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Around-the-World Flight, Travel, People

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