When West Palm Beach-based flight instructor Zheng “Julie” Wang landed her Cirrus at Addison Airport in Dallas on Sept. 20, returning to the place from which she departed 34days ago, she became the first Chinese woman to pilot an aircraft around-the-world solo.
Wang accomplished the west-bound circumnavigation in 155 hours of flying over 17 days, with just one rest day — in China — after having left the U.S. mainland.
Although delays in California installing and obtaining approvals for fuel system modifications that gave the aircraft the range it needed to cross the Pacific left Wang frustrated, she said she relaxed once she was airborne.
“Once I made my first HF radio calls and established contact with the oceanic controllers I felt relaxed and energized,” she said. “The Monterey coast fell away and an expanse of deep blue ocean opened. The frustration of waiting for the various approvals melted away and I was free to do what I love; flying an airplane and appreciating the incredible vistas changing minute-by-minute before my eyes.”
“I am totally impressed with Julie’s solo flight around the world,” said Wei Chen, a member of the board of directors of AOPA China who, in 2011, became the first Chinese citizen to circumnavigate the world in a single engine airplane.
“Over 60% of her flight was over the oceans and therefore the challenge and risk were much greater compared to more conventional coastline-based routes. Above all, flying the entire trip solo in a single-engine airplane is the biggest challenge even with all the technology aviation has to offer today. Her flight is historic and inspirational to everyone who loves flying. She is a true aviator!”
Chen will award Wang 1,000,000 RMB (about $150,000) on behalf of AOPA and AOPA China for being the first Chinese woman to complete an around-the-world flight.
Wang’s route took her from Dallas first to Los Angeles and then Merced, California, where ferry tanks were installed on the aircraft (and all the passenger seating was removed), and then to Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Guam and the Philippines, before landing at Haikou, China. From China, she overflew Vietnam and Laos to land in Pattaya, Thailand, and then overflew Myanmar and Bangladesh, crossing the Bay of Bengal and then the heart of India, to land at Ahmedabad.
From India, she flew through the Middle East, landing only in the U.A.E. (Abu Dhabi) but overflying Pakistan, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and then into and across the Mediterranean, landing at Crete and Malta before reaching the Atlantic coast at Lisbon.
“I expected the North Atlantic to be dark and nasty compared to the Pacific but the leg to the Azores (Santa Maria Island) and then to Newfoundland (St. Johns) was simply spectacular. Leaving Portugal, the ocean turned a pure deep blue that I had never seen before. Night fell on the way to St Johns and the cloud cover below me was lit by bright moonlight, creating a white carpet to drive on all the way to North America.”
The relatively smooth journey was not without glitches. On the scheduled day of departure from Merced, the flight computer refused to upload the global navigation database and a full day of troubleshooting ensued.
At the Marshall Islands, where there was only 110 gallons of avgas on the entire island, all of it needed to reach Guam, Wang stopped the refueling when she noticed that the avgas fuel was the wrong color.
“I saw green fuel going into the ferry tank and avgas is blue. It was 100 octane and not the 100 ‘low-lead’ I was expecting.”
After several calls and texts to and among support team members, the consensus was that the avgas 100 should be fine but that she should watch the engine performance closely.
“I took off the next morning pulling fuel from one of the main tanks containing 100LL and only switched to the 100 octane in cruise flight so that if the engine quit on the 100, I could immediately switch back to the 100LL and make it back to Majuro,” Wang said.
Upon arriving at St. Johns, Newfoundland, at midnight, Wang was detained by Canadian Customs and Border Security officers on the ramp, who accused her of landing “illegally” in Canada, attempting to “drop in” without prior authorization, despite hours of giving position reports to New York Radio and being cleared to land at St. Johns by controllers at Gander.
It turned out that Wang’s Canadian handling agent had simply failed to telephone Customs in advance to advise the agents of Wang’s arrival. After reviewing Wang’s paperwork, the Canada Customs and Border Security officers released her and she departed normally but not without paying an additional $600 charge for calling out the customs agents “after hours.”
Wang, an Airline Transport Pilot, certified flight instructor, and FAA-designated chief flight instructor for the Part 141 courses offered by Zulutime Pilot at Witham Field in Stuart, Florida, is only the ninth woman to fly solo around the world, with three Americans, three British, a French and an Australian preceding her.