At 52, Robert DeLaurentis has already circumnavigated the earth in a single-engine Piper Malibu Mirage (N997MA). He documented his 2015 journey in Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within.
What is an adventurous soul to do after such an accomplishment but plan the next one?
With about 1,900 hours’ flying time, DeLaurentis will begin a 90-day pole-to-pole journey on Dec. 15, 2018 in a plane he named The Citizen of the World.
Starting in San Diego, California, he will fly a super tricked out 1983 Gulfstream Turbo Commander 900 (N29GA) to the southernmost tip of Chile. This is when the trip pegs the adventure meter: He’s going to fly twice to Antarctica.
“Originally,” DeLaurentis said, “the plan was to go from the tip of Chile at Punta Arenas to the South Pole and then come back to land at King George Island, which is the northern tip of Antarctica, spend the night and fly 600 miles back to Punta Arenas. Then we found out that they won’t have any aviation fuel when I’ll be there, and then we found out that the accommodations are a shipping container — assuming there’s space available in it.”
He explained he would instead fly to King George Island, “to check that box on Dec. 30,” and fly back to Chile.
“Then we’ll go all the way to the pole and back on the first of January, weather permitting.”
After his flight to the South Pole, he plans to fly “to the eastern edge of Brazil, over to southern Africa, flying on to Madagascar, up to Kenya and Northern Africa through Europe to the North Pole and then down through Alaska and back to San Diego.”
DeLaurentis often speaks in the second person plural because he recognizes the journey to be a team effort. He has expert advisors, more than 70 sponsors, and an untold number of followers on social media.
Flying to the Poles
The flight from Chile, overflying the South Pole and back is a 4,457-mile round trip that will take between 17 and 20 hours over the largest, coldest, windiest, driest desert on earth.
Antarctica is only a few hundred meters above sea level and is covered with a 9,000’ thick ice sheet. The South Pole’s Amundsen-Scott Station is 850 miles south of the U.S. McMurdo Station.
The mean temperature at the South Pole is minus 52.2° Fahrenheit. At 36,000′ the standard outside air temperature is minus 69.7° Fahrenheit. Jet-A’s freezing point is minus 40°. Jet B freezes at minus 47°.
Preventing Fuel Freezing
Keeping the fuel from freezing or gelling is a serious concern when flying to the poles.
DeLaurentis said he would use Prist, a fuel system icing inhibitor, “to drop the moisture out of the fuel and prevent it from freezing and clogging the fuel lines.”
He described the benefits of a $105,000 newly-installed environmental system designed by Peter Schiff at Peter Schiff Aero.
“It gives us 60 more horsepower. It’s going to lighten the airplane by 100 pounds. It gives backup pressurization and puts twice as much air into the cabin to pressurize it. It takes air from the outside as opposed to cooling contaminated bleed air, and the plane can be cooled on the ground with a plug-in electrical outlet. Then it gives us a wider temperature range inside the cabin because that’s where we’re warming the fuel before we put it into a cold wing that then puts it into the engine.”
The twin engines are Honeywell TPE 331-10 Turboprop engines for high-altitude flight.
DeLaurentis plans to fly near the performance ceiling for the Turbo Commander at 35,000′ “to be above the weather and for maximum glide.”
Extending The Fuel Supply
To get a 5,000-mile flight range from the Turbo Commander, six long-range fuel tanks were installed inside the aircraft by sponsor Flight Contract Services.
“Before when I was doing my flight, I could never really tell how much fuel was in the tank without running it out and having the engine stop in flight,” he said. “I thought that when the engine started to sound rough, I’d just flip the valve. Well, that didn’t work the next time I tried it. The engine went out. I guess I wasn’t quick enough, so yeah, that’s not a reliable system.”
The ferry tank system in Citizen of the World is set up to pump fuel from the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth tanks one at a time into the number one tank, which is directly behind the pilot’s seat. The system was set up by ferry pilot Fred Sorenson.
“The ferry pilot who’s installing the tanks made the decision to use aluminum tanks as opposed to rubber fuel bladders which, at high altitudes, tend to expand,” said DeLaurentis. “When the metal tanks drain, the pressure relief valves open and you get this loud bang sound as the sides of the tanks expand. Then the whole plane shudders.”
“When I was doing my practice approach into Truckee, the fuel tank equalized like I described, and it almost sent me out of my seat,” he continued. “When I talked to him later, he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you about that.’”
The extra fuel also means that for the first part of the flight the Citizen of the World will be flying 40% over gross. Engineer Fred Gatz designed the wings of the plane and his feasibility study showed that the plane can handle the extra load. The aircraft has a Shadin Avionics F/ADC 2000 fuel/air data computer installed to monitor real-time fuel flow and provide navigation data.
DeLaurentis upgraded the props to 5-blade MT, Scimitar, nickel tipped composite props because they “cut the noise in half, climb faster, and offer more speed at cruise altitude.”
Special high-ply tires from Desser Tires were installed to handle the extreme environments on the journey.
Light Up The Darkness
The South Pole portion of the journey will be done in 24-hour daylight, but the flight to overfly the North Pole will be done in partial darkness. To illuminate the terrain, an infrared camera is mounted on the aircraft. The infrared images will also define the terrain at the South Pole to counteract reflection off the snow, which can create snow blindness.
An Astronics Max-Viz 1400 will be mounted on the nose, its first installation on a general aviation aircraft. It will connect to the Avidyne IFD 550 through video input. Whelen LED lights were also installed inside and outside the plane to improve visibility.
Normally, pilots can rely on Jeppesen or FAA charts. Jeppesen offers a chart for the coastline of Antarctica, but not for the entire continent.
And even though commercial aircraft overfly the Arctic Circle, they don’t fly near the North Pole. To plan his flight, DeLaurentis will use charts from the National Geographic and the British Antarctic Survey to supplement the Jeppesen charts.
Even with the best charts and state-of-the-art equipment, the magnetic variation at the poles can ruin a flight plan.
“The GPS doesn’t work at the poles and the magnetic compass will be unreliable. The old-school directional gyro will work,” said DeLaurentis. “GPS waypoints outside of the South Pole will remain reliable.”
To overfly the poles, DeLaurentis had to obtain permits from the US State Department, the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of Antarctic Affairs, and a waste water permit.
Since no country owns the poles, they are managed by multi-national organizations.
All these preparations are in addition to the pounds of safety gear, like a Garmin InReach Explorer, he relied on for his first circumnavigation of the world.
To follow his journey, go to FlyingThruLife.com/Pole-to-Pole.
To see how he prepared both mentally and physically for the trip, click here.