What does it take to fly around the world?
Pilot Robert DeLaurentis recently took time to share what he learned during his historic 2015 solo circumnavigation of the world.
His new book, “Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within,” details the historic 98-day, 26,000-mile ultimate cross-country.
It Takes Courage
Flying around the planet is a daunting task. It represents that scary big goal most pilots never seriously entertain.
The list of men and women who have achieved circumnavigation by flight numbers about 50, not counting astronauts.
The first successful aerial circumnavigation involved four Douglas World Cruisers in 1924 flown by pairs of pilots, navigators, and mechanics in the US Army Air Service. It took 175 days, engine changes, wing changes, and still only two of the four planes completed the course.
Before 1924, attempts by the British and French failed. In 1933, flying a single-engine Lockheed Vega, Wiley Post completed the first solo circumnavigation.
That desire to achieve a history-making goal is tempered by equally-historic fatalities. Wiley Post died trying to fly over the North Pole to Russia with humorist Will Rogers in 1935.
Two years later, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan vanished in the Pacific flying a twin-engine Lockheed Electra.
The year before Robert DeLaurentis’s circumnavigation, Harris and Babar Suleman of Indiana crashed and died in their attempt.
“I had no way to anticipate what sort of chances I was taking, and I honestly didn’t know if I would be coming home,” DeLaurentis said. “At a minimum, I would not return the same person as when I left…in a way, I was saying goodbye to myself as well.”
“You have to figure out your greatest fear and go after it before the trip,” he continued. “I never fully appreciated my fear of entering a non-towered field at night on an instrument approach with mountains nearby. On an island. This situation came up a few times, despite my efforts to avoid landing at night.”
But it takes more than raw courage to survive such a goal.
It Takes Planning
To prepare, he researched previous attempts and spoke with experienced ferry pilots, like Fred Sorenson, on the safest routes and seasons to fly.
“I got great advice from a ferry pilot: He said, ‘A lot of times it will be easier to give up. Never give up.’”
He then executed a flight to Europe from the U.S. as a practice run of sorts. From research and his experience, he determined the supplies and survival gear to take.
“I was counting out 90 vitamins and one that I had was fish oil. In the Middle East, they might burst in the heat, so I had to bring along a plastic bag to separate them from the others.”
He chuckled, then added, “I had to consider if I really needed the plastic bag. I was that concerned about reducing the weight of supplies. In Wal-Mart, I was considering which binder was the lightest. I had to keep all my travel documents, VISAs and such in one place.”
He also flew a wide variety of single-engine and twin-engine aircraft including Cessnas 152, 182, and 210, a Cirrus SR22, a Cirrus SR22 Turbo, a Diamond DA20, a Piper Archer, a Piper Aztec, and a Beechcraft Duchess, to name just a few.
“I belong to a couple of different flying clubs and I just wanted to experience a lot of different planes,” he said. “In the Plus One Flyers Club I got to fly a Malibu.”
It was apparently love at first flight. Logging 400 hours in the Malibu, he selected a 1997 Piper Malibu Mirage (N997MA) to make his great journey.
It Takes Money
The plane, fuel, and time off from his day job in real estate all added up.
In modifying his plane, he found a few sponsors. In his book, he lists modifications and innovations employed for the journey, like FlightShield’s Nanoceramic Coating, and the DeLorme inReach Explorer by Garmin. In all, 45 sponsors helped make the trip possible.
At last he faced the first day of the journey.
Named “The Spirit of San Diego,” the single-engine plane was adorned with small flags from many nations and the logos of sponsors. In San Diego, the fourth-grade classes at Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary School monitored his trip, along with 200,000 social media followers.
Departure was May 15, 2015 from San Diego. Wearing a neoprene survival suit, carrying VISAs and medical and evacuation insurance, equipped with 40 pounds of survival gear, armed with a degree in spiritual psychology, and 1,300 hours of flight time, DeLaurentis began his solo flight around the world.
Without fanfare, without a press conference, and without a cheering crowd to send him off, he simply squeezed cautiously around the extra 140-gallon fuel bladder, settled into the cockpit, and started up his aircraft.
It Takes a Zen Perspective
“The silence that happens when you are alone in the plane brings focus on the now,” he explained. “You can only concentrate on the leg you’re flying. Being focused on the flight that you’re on means the world doesn’t give you a pass. You have to be in the moment. I don’t think most people live in the moment. They are thinking about what comes next, or what someone said in the past.”
He spoke of fear as if it sat in the co-pilot’s seat, as if it was just another element to factor into each leg.
“You don’t have control over what is coming — the weather, conditions,” he noted. “There were times I had to surrender to what was happening. I had been in the Middle East during the Gulf War, so there were all kinds of thoughts going through my head while I was stuck on the tarmac in Oman, Jordan. When everything is cleared away, all distractions are gone, you are forced to pay attention to things you haven’t had time for before.”
Despite the dangers and frustrations on his journey, his love for flying continues.
“Flying is entertainment in itself,” he said. “When you add in different destinations and friends, when you include all those things, layering them all together, flying is a magical experience. Everyone at some time has dreamed of flying. I wish more people could experience it.”
DeLaurentis spoke of plans for his next goal, to “close escrow on a Turbo Commander 900 and fly it to South America, to the Canary Islands, and Madagascar to deliver medical supplies. We just did a test run to Cuba to deliver medical supplies.”
The name of the new plane? “Citizen of the World.” Why?
“We may have different skin colors, political affiliations, you name it — there are more things that connect us than separate us,” he explained.
When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he replied, “That I went for it. That I overcame my fears to achieve the impossibly big dream that others warned couldn’t be done.”