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Coronavirus restrictions delay Seattle pilot's circumnavigationCoronavirus restrictions delay Seattle pilot's circumnavigation

Shinji Maeda postpones global questShinji Maeda postpones global quest

Editor's note: This article was updated March 26 to include a 2021 starting date for the global flight.

Inspirational speaker and pilot Shinji Maeda, who lost his sight in one eye after a motor vehicle crash, delayed his global circumnavigation scheduled to begin May 1 due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Pilot Shinji Maeda delayed his global circumnavigation scheduled to begin May 1 due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Photo by David Tulis.

The self-described “one-eyed pilot,“ CFI, and aerospace engineer’s quest in a 1963 Beechcraft Bonanza P35 to inspire hope, strength, and joy was put on hold after the U.S. Department of State issued strict overseas travel guidelines March 19.

Other countries have announced, without prior notice, the closure of their borders and temporary bans on foreign nationals’ entry, which is making overseas travel “complex and unpredictable,” the Japanese-born pilot wrote to his supporters via email and on social media. The announcement ultimately led to the postponement—but not a cancellation of the Aero Zypangu Project‘s outreach.

The organization (whose name means Air Japan) provides opportunities and experiences to people with disabilities, youngsters, and their families through general aviation. Maeda plans to give motivational speeches to young people at locations around the world during the three-month journey with stops in 14 countries.

Washington pilot Shini Maeda is planning a flight around the world in a 1963 Beechcraft Bonanza P35. Photo courtesy of Shinji Maeda.Maeda said he was “just fine” with the choice to delay the journey, which also was to include a stopover at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, May 4. “I am not giving up flying around the world,” in the V-tail that he named “Lucy,” he emphasized via a social media video. “As you can see, Lucy is just amazing, and she is ready to rock and roll, baby.” The newly painted red, black, and, white aircraft had undergone a propeller-to-V-tail refurbishment, and Maeda gained tips and encouragement from 2016 earthrounder, fellow Bonanza owner, and mentor Adrian Eichhorn.

“I postponed my [2020] flight, but I am still planning to fly the world, most likely in 2021 at the same time,” beginning in early May, he told AOPA. “People need my story so I will not give up."

Maeda has faced and conquered challenges before, including a motor vehicle crash that robbed him of the sight in one eye at age 18 and nearly extinguished his dream of becoming a professional pilot. “Doctors gave my family a 50/50 chance of survival” because the crash caused a severe skull fracture, brain swelling, and other damage, he earlier told AOPA. At one point his parents were told that he would “be a vegetable” for the rest of his life.

He overcame the physical and mental trauma of his injuries, including a crushed optic nerve, to become a commercial pilot, a CFI, and an inspirational speaker. His upbeat message is to share “dreams and hopes to people,” and to enable them to think together to overcome challenges.

Washington pilot Shini Maeda is planning a flight around the world in a 1963 Beechcraft Bonanza P35. Photo courtesy of Shinji Maeda.

The postponement “was a very difficult decision,” he wrote, “however, your health and safety are the most important, and we respect each country’s measures to fight against further spread of the virus.” A new takeoff date will coincide with the lifting of travel restrictions and “Aero Zypangu Project will overcome this difficult time.”

The pilot said the postponement was not the “end of the world,” and he planned to continue when conditions allowed. “We’re not going to give it up for anything,” he vowed during a video. “This is all about staying at home, being healthy, and just waiting for the right timing… I guarantee … you will see me and we’re going to high five, maybe we can hug each other, and we will enjoy our life again.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Around the World Flight

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