Now that Stephan Armstrong and his son, Charlie, have finished building their RV-8, they are preparing for the trip of a lifetime. The team, from Julian, Calif., plan to launch on an around-the-world flight next year as a way to raise awareness about childhood cancers.
It’s a flight that’s been in the making for a long time, according to Armstrong, who has been a pilot for most of his life.
“My ticket dates back to 1978,” he said, noting he learned to fly in Switzerland. “I was 17 and allowed to fly, but not allowed to drive a car as the legal driving age in Switzerland is 18.” His commercial/IFR ratings followed at the age of 20, “and soon after that my instructor license.”
After moving to the United States, he found a job selling airplanes to customers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. “I flew them to their new owners myself,” he recalled. “This is how I became acquainted with long-distance flying in small, mostly single-engine airplanes. Somewhere along the line, flying around the world became a bucket list item for me,” said Armstrong, who now is an apple farmer. “I can’t think of a better, more fulfilling occasion than doing this with my son in the plane we built together.”
Dubbed “SEE WORLD I,” the RV-8 is powered by a 180-hp fuel injected Lycoming engine propelled with a 2-blade Hartzell constant speed propeller. Cruise speed is 195 mph. It has a service ceiling of 20,000 feet and an extended range of 1,200 miles. Fuel capacity is 70 gallons. Building the plane took about six years, “the equivalent of approximately 1,600 hours of labor,” Armstrong said, adding, “It is presently being outfitted with a state-of-the-art Dynon Electronic Flight Display and electronic Engine Monitoring System with GPS.”
The flight, which is set to begin next spring, will start at Borrego Valley Airport (L08) in California. From there the pair will travel to the east coast, then on to Canada, Greenland, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, Japan, Russia, Alaska, and then back to San Diego. The quest will stretch over a period of three months and cover five continents, 29 countries, and a total distance of more than 35,000 miles. Highlights of the trip include stops at the Smithsonian, the Louvre, the Pyramids, Athens, Rome, the Taj Mahal, Ayers Rock, and much more, Armstrong said.
Armstrong adds that Charlie, who is homeschooled, “gets to have the field trip of a lifetime. “Unofficially deemed navigator and co-pilot, he will not only receive an education in piloting, geography, world culture, history and geology, but also will become a worthy ambassador for children with cancer,” he continued.
Making the flight a fundraiser for pediatric cancer made sense, as the family has had “a long and personal involvement in the fight against cancer,” Armstrong said. His wife, Laura Luethi, founded the Chemo Angels Cancer Support Organization in 2000, which is one of the organizations that will benefit from the funds raised by Flying For the Cure. “The proceeds will go to the benefit of several pediatric cancer research institutes, pediatric cancer hospitals, such as St. Judes, and to a few heartbreaking individual cases whose families are unable to afford proper treatment for their child,” he said.
“Of all cancers we feel childhood cancer deserves our attention the most,” he explained. “Pediatric cancer is not only the most overlooked, underfunded and neglected form of cancer, but it is by far the most heartbreaking. No child deserves to suffer from this horrible disease. Yet it is the number one cause of non-accidental death for children in the U.S. and so far it cannot be prevented. It would be impossible for us not to use this event to help. We know, with the support of people who read this, we can make a difference and change the lives of kids who need our help.”
On their trip around the world, the father/son team will try to organize as many media events as possible, and also visit various pediatric cancer hospitals to spread the word of their efforts.
Because of the many elements involved in the flight, Armstrong doesn’t have a set date for takeoff. “We are planning for a May/June 2012 departure,” he said. “However, the project has a lot of variables and nothing is written in stone. Also, we will do whatever it takes not to fall prey to the many external and internal pressures — deadlines, press, meeting cancer kids at hospitals, my obligations to my employer. Our philosophy was and always will be safety first and, when in doubt, never. It is such that has made me not necessarily a good pilot, but an old one.”
He adds that “unlike most earth rounders, we are not in it to break flight records. The only record we want to break is the amount of money we can raise for pediatric cancer. With a few exceptions, most of our legs are between two and three hours,” he added, continuing, “We are probably more rigorous with emergency procedures and the familiarization of the equipment we use, such as survival suits, life raft, ELT, etc.”
The biggest challenge for the pair — apart from weather — is flying an experimental airplane, he said. “Each country has its own rules, laws and regulations and can deny flyovers or landings for no reason at all,” he said. “Getting 100LL fuel in Russia also might pose a challenge, which is the only reason we might have to install a temporary ferry tank.”
Also daunting is funding the expedition, which is why they are looking for sponsors. “We hope to offset at least some of the cost with sponsors, but if not, we will use our own resources,” he said. “We have an extensive sponsor/advertising program using the airplane, crew apparel and our website. An added benefit is that as we exhibit at air shows and other aviation events before and after the flight, it will give our cause and our sponsors more exposure.”
The flight also will have exposure in social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter. A dedicated website, Flying-for-the-Cure.org, gives more information and allows those interested to follow along on the flight, as well as learn how to help beat childhood cancer.
And that’s the bottom line for Armstrong and his son. “We are not in it to boast, nor are we looking for personal glory,” he said. “Our message is simple — you don’t have to be a movie star or a millionaire to help.”
Want to help?
There are a lot of ways, Armstrong says: “Help us reach our fundraising goal. Spread the word. Social network with us. Create traffic on our website. Like us on Facebook. Organize a fundraiser in our name. Donate something we need on our website or make a cash contribution to help pay the bills. Offer to escort us with your plane when we fly in or out of your neighborhood. We always like and appreciate notes of encouragement.”
The planned route
Total flight distance: 35,000 miles. Total flight hours: 185 hours. Continents: 5. Countries: 29. Cities: 86.
Route: Borrego Spings, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon Airport, Monument Valley Airport, Albuquerque, Tulsa, New Orleans, Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, Buffalo, Montreal, Labrador City, Kuujjak, Iqaluit, Sondre Stromfjord, Kulusuk, Reykjavik, Vagar, Bergen, Copenhagen, Berlin, London, Paris, Vienna, Munich, Friedrichshafen, Berne, Cannes, Venice, Split, Rome, Brindisi, Athens, Cyprus, Cairo, Luxor, Al Qasim, Qatar, Dubai, Faisal, New Dehli, Calcutta, Port Blair, Phuket, Singapore, Jawa, Bali, Timor, Darwin, Tennant, Ayers Rock, Cooper Pedy, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Hamilton, Fitzroy, Papua New Guinea, Timika, Babullah, Bangoy, Aquino, Laoag, Taipei, Okinawa, Kagoshima, Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagashibeku, Petropavlovsk, Casco Cove, Adak, Unalaska, Egekik, Anchorage, White Horse, Ketchikan, Vancouver, Portland, Aurora, San Francisco, Catalina, San Diego, Borrego.