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Harrelson to pursue Conrad circumnavigation record

Bill Harrelson is taking aim at one of general aviation’s longest standing endurance records: Max Conrad’s 1961 solo westbound flight around the globe.

Bill Harrelson, who circumnavigated the globe via the North and South Poles in 2015, is planning a new record attempt, a westbound solo flight around the globe to beat Max Conrad's eight-day record from 1961.

Conrad’s epic eight-day, equatorial flight in a Piper PA–23 Aztec began and ended at Miami International Airport, and it hasn’t been challenged in the 58 years since. It was the crowning aviation achievement among Conrad’s long list of aviation feats that included more than 200 ocean crossings in piston GA aircraft and numerous speed and endurance marks.

“Max Conrad’s around-the-world record has long been seen as unbeatable, and that’s what intrigues me so much about it,” said Harrelson, 69, who holds Féderation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) weight-class world records for distance (Guam to Jacksonville, Florida, 7,051 nautical miles in 2013) and polar circumnavigation (24 days in 2015).

Harrelson built his own airplane—a Lancair IV that can carry more than 350 gallons of avgas—for the purpose of setting aviation records. And his airplane’s massive range and 180-knot cruise speed (not to mention satellite navigation) give him confidence he can surpass Conrad’s mark.

One thing that Conrad had, however, that Harrelson lacks is a second engine. And almost all of Harrelson’s route will be over oceans.

From Miami, Harrelson expects to start the record attempt in December and will make just four stops: Honolulu; Jakarta, Indonesia; Walvis Bay, Namibia, and back to Miami. By contrast, Conrad made 14 stops on his 1961 adventure.

Harrelson, a former airline captain and marathon runner, said he planned no more record attempts after setting the polar mark four years ago. But he said he would regret never attempting to surpass Conrad’s Miami-to-Miami record.

“I’ve looked at it very closely,” he said, “and I firmly believe that it’s well within reach.”

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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