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CFI sets longest-distance aircraft ‘wheelie’

Nosewheel-up landing continued for nearly three miles

Editor's note: This article was updated February 21 with news that CFI Christopher Freeze did set a Guinness World Record for the longest distance aircraft wheelie.

CFI Christopher Freeze kept the nosewheel of a Cessna 172 off the ground after landing for 14,319 feet at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville to set a Guinness World Record.

Guinness World Records acknowledged on February 21 that Freeze had set the "longest airplane wheelie (distance)" record.

Freeze said the wheelie idea landed when he realized “there’s not a lot there” for the average pilot seeking recognition without a large support staff or a big budget. The Virginia-based CFI told AOPA Live Video Producer Paul Harrop that he learned the previous wheelie record was two kilometers, and he felt it was within his shoestring budget—if he could find the right airport and conditions—to satisfy Guinness World Records requirements.

Freeze coaches his primary aviation students to bring the nosewheel down softly and to maintain control, so he thought, “What’s to keep me from just going long?” However, he needed the feat to stand the test of time. “I don’t want to just break the record—I want to knock it to the moon,” he explained.

Finding a suitable airfield was a challenge. Freeze said the longest runway in the United States is at Denver International Airport, but disrupting passenger traffic for “a couple of hours” was out of the question. The solution presented itself in San Bernardino County where Victorville’s 15,050-foot-long Runway 17/35 awaited. “It was the right combination of everything,” he said.

CFI Christopher Freeze attempts a world-record aircraft "wheelie" of 14,319 feet in a rented Cessna 172 Skyhawk at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California. Photo courtesy of Ken Freeze.

The secret to Freeze’s success was modifying his soft-field technique to extend the main-wheels-down, nosewheel-up attitude for a few miles rather than 100 yards or so. During practice he identified the rollout’s correct feel and angle as being on the “razor’s edge” of flight without becoming airborne. “You get the airflow going and you kind of keep the power in, [add] a little bit of trim, just hold the back-pressure in,” and “look for the sweet spot” where “you just … keep the nose up, don’t let it come down, don’t put in so much power that you’re popping back up” off the ground.

He took off from the shorter Runway 21 to a “low pattern altitude north of the airport, and I had to land in an uphill direction, which is actually counter to most operations here.” Freeze “lined up perfectly on the centerline and just got my airplane super stable.” He factored in the weight of a passenger-eyewitness, added flaps to slow down, then touched the main wheels down on the numbers “just past the threshold and got that nose up” for a typical soft-field landing.

Christopher Freeze lofts the nosewheel of a rented Cessna 172 Skyhawk for 14,319 feet. Photo courtesy of Ken Freeze.

A belly camera documented the early-morning wheelie attempt before winds or traffic became a factor.

After chirping the mains, he “added that power in and kept the flaps at 20 degrees and kept on rolling”—for 2.71 miles. Small throttle changes and “a little bit of trim here and there” kept the Skyhawk’s nose in the air.

With about 500 feet of runway remaining, Freeze “kicked the flaps up,” reduced power to idle, applied aerodynamic braking to load the mains, gently lowered the nose, and came to a stop within about 50 feet of the overrun area.

He deflected credit from himself and complimented his support team, which included his father handling video duties, airport management, the local FBO, surveyors, eyewitnesses, Midfield Aviation at Apple Valley Airport for the airplane rental, and others who helped him prepare for the wheelie attempt. He hopes Guinness will officially recognize the record in the weeks ahead.

Freeze is a professional aviation writer and an airline transport pilot with more than 3,000 hours. In 2018, he won the California-based Hayward Air Rally proficiency challenge. “Aviation has so many things to offer, it’s impossible to do it all,” Freeze said, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.
Topics: Awards and Records, People

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