HOW TO FLY AROUND THE WORLD
One could write dozens of books on the methods, the itineraries, types of aircraft, etc.,
to be used to make a successful flight around the world. A broad outline of what is required
- The Pilot
- The Aircraft
- Survival equipment
- The flight
1. The Pilot :
The pilot should have some experience, but it is impossible to give a minimum number of flying hours as it depends on the pilot, of his or hers natural ability in the air, and the circumstances involved. As an example, Jerrie Mock is probably the pilot with the least number of hours when she flew around the world. Jerrie had only 750 hours at the commencement of her world flight, and finished with 900 hours. Young Baron Konieg-Warthaussen and Mrs. Bruce may also be mentioned for beginning their flights with only a few hours experience, although it must be noted that their aircraft were shipped over the oceans on liners.
In my view, what matters more than the number of flying hours a pilot has logged, is experience in one's aircraft, of long flights, and of flights made to foreign countries with a different environment. As experience cannot be purchased, one should acquire it by making longer and longer flights each time, starting in one's own country before flying abroad. European pilots could cross the Mediterranean to start, and in summer could fly across the Atlantic via Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and return. American pilots could choose to fly to Canada or Mexico before crossing the Atlantic to Europe. Such flights are within the reach of any aircraft with a speed of 140 knots and would make a good « dress rehearsal » for longer crossings and a flight around the world. For my own « dress rehearsal », I flew from Australia to Hong Kong via Ambon in Indonesia and Manila in the Philippines. The longest leg was 1200 nautical miles and my aircraft was equipped with 2 ferry tanks. This flight confirmed that I would need more fuel to cross the Pacific.
IFR Rating :
It is impossible to always expect fair weather on a long flight, especially when crossing the Equator where the seasons change and one has to cross the Intertropical Zone of Convergence which is almost always full of low clouds and thunderstorms. As one must expect some unfavorable weather conditions during the flight, the pilot must be qualified to fly IFR. Some countries impose IFR for over water flights. For my own flight, I had my share of bad weather and had to make 4 instruments approaches, 2 of them at the minima, in Reykjavik in Iceland and in Penang in Malaysia. All the pilots who flew around the world were qualified IFR.
Passport and Visas :
Naturally, the pilot should hold a valid passport, some countries demanding validity of more than 6 months. Visas are required by some countries for pilot and crew, though most countries do not require visas for crew members staying only a few days. It is better to err on the safe side if in any doubt. I had to have visas for the USA, Egypt and India.
Health precautions :
For some countries it is necessary to find out if vaccinations are either required of recommended.
In the tropics, mosquito bites can cause all sorts of diseases and ailments and should be avoided with the use of long sleeves and repellent coils which are a must, especially toward dusk.
It is very important to be in good health before commencing the flight because such a trip is not only tiring, but takes a good amount of courage, tenacity, and determination to be successful.
In third world countries it is important to wear a uniform such as navy pants, light blue or white shirt, and a name badge, as this will impose respect and consideration. The AOPA badge, with a photo and the word 'Air Crew' may also be used.
- The Pilot
- The Aircraft
- Survival equipment
- The Flight
2. The aircraft :
One needs an aircraft with a speed of at least 140 knots, and capable of a good range. This can be achieved with ferry tanks fitted in the cabin ; or in some aircraft, tip tanks on the wings. Some pilots flew around the world with very light aircraft : Peter Norvill used his Cessna XP ; and Truman and Evans had Super Cubs. Mrs. Bruce, Baron Koneig-Warthausen and Elly Beinhorn also flew very small aircraft, but in their case, it was necessary to ferry the airplanes across the water in ocean liners. However, it can be done, even in micro-lights, but this is even more difficult.
To make legs a comfortable length, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the aircraft should have a speed of not less than 140 knots. As an example, at the bottom of the scale, a Cessna 206, A Piper Lance or a Bonanza might be chosen. The Beechcraft Bonanza has been used by many pilots, with or without tip tanks. The aircraft must carry enough fuel for legs of at least 1,000 nautical miles. To cross the Pacific Ocean on the 'classic' route which is between Hawaii and California, with a distance of 2,100 NM, a enormous quantity of fuel is required. Ferry tanks fitted in the cabin ; or tip tanks for the Bonanza are needed. The tanks have to be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority, and meet some criterias. They can be very simple, as in the use of fuel drums strapped to the floor, or elaborate, where the tanks are bolted on to the seat rails. Fuel is pumped to the main tank by electric pumps, preferably two. It may be wise to add an emergency hand pump. ( In this case it may pay to have a strong copilot…). The quantity of fuel to be carried may lead to the aircraft being overweight, though up to 10% is generally not a problem. However, the position of the Center of Gravity may vary with different weights and it will be necessary to check this out at different stages of fuel consumption.
To know more on how to use the aircraft pressurization to help transfer fuel from the cabin to the main tank, a good description can be found on the 'Doug Caybe and John Fulton' Internet site :
The aircraft should have at least the minimum IFR equipment : one VOR, one ADF, and one DME.
Communication equipment should be one 2 VHF and one HF. Many pilots use amateur radio transceivers. These are much cheaper than the 'approved' aviation models, lighter, and most of the time give a better performance. These sets are supposed to transmit only on the amateur bands and need a 'mod' to transmit on all bands. The 'mod' is a secret known to everybody, and is described on the internet.
The Global Position System or GPS has revolutionized navigation and has become an indispensable tool. Its indications should always be cross referenced with conventional modes of navigation. One should never rely on a single system. The choice of GPS is generally dictated by the amount of money one can afford, as they range from pocket models, to sets with moving maps. They are all good and will do the job. If finances allow, a spare set on independent batteries would be an asset in the case of total electrical power loss. Also, a portable battery operated VHF transceiver could prove useful in such an emergency. Some sets can be used with normal aviation headphones.
On very long legs where fuel is critical, a good fuel counter is necessary to give the hourly fuel burn, and the time remaining at that fuel rate. Combined with a good Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) indicator, one can lean efficiently without risk of burning exhaust valves and turbo chargers.
Single versus twin :
Which is safer ? Which is more economical ? To these questions there are a thousand answers. Sometimes there is no choice when a pilot owns an aircraft and wishes to use it.
What are the arguments favoring each type ?
In the case of a single engine aircraft, if it loses the engine for any reason, an emergency landing or ditching is only minutes away. With a twin, if one engine stops and the pilot reacts quickly enough, it is possible for the pilot to finish the leg and land safely. It is most important that an engine failure does not occur during the climb in the first 100 feet, as in this instance, the twin is probably more dangerous than a single and only a well trained and alert pilot can hold it and fly a short circuit and land. With only one engine, the twin has less than half its total power. Twins are not built and certified to maintain altitude on one engine. Departing for a very long leg and with an excess of weight would compound the problem. An overloaded twin loosing one engine on take off will not maintain altitude, and it would probably be better to convert it into a single by pulling the power on the good engine, rather than risking flipping upside down with hundreds of gallons of fuel on board.
On a leg of moderate length, a twin loosing an engine will very likely finish the flight, but on a very long leg where the fuel burn will be increased and the speed decreased, it may not. However, if an emergency landing or ditching is to be made, hopefully there will be some time to divert and call for help, or even to find a ship and ditch near by.
The single, having only one engine, will burn half the fuel a twin would burn and so with an equal amount of fuel, the single will fly further. To add the second engine, doubling the power and the fuel burn would only increase the speed by a mere 20 to 30%. On a leg of moderate length, a twin on a single engine should be able to carry on and land safely. It is imperative to know the Point of no Return (PNR) 'red' that is taking the single engine speed after the engine failure. On a very long leg, such as crossing of the Pacific Ocean, there is a zone after the PNR where if an engine fails, the aircraft will not be able to turn back (of course, since this is after the PNR) but will not make the destination. It will only make it if the failure occurs very late in the flight.
Very long legs have been flown with singles, the pilots having taken the risk of having only one engine. The Aerostar with 400 USG can fly for 2,400 NM while a Lancair 4 will fly for 3000 NM at almost the same speed. Another comparison can be made between the Aerostar and the Malibu. Both aircraft have Lycoming 540 engines with similar load capacities, but the Malibu can fly more than 6, 000 NM.
Although modern aircraft engines are very safe, they are not infallible, and therefore a risk that a pilot must be prepared to take.
By looking at statistics, on 132 known flights around the world, only 35 were twins. Bonanzas are the singles mostly used. Also among the flights around the world very few have had engine failures. One of these failure is very well documented on the 'Earthrounders' site :
To conclude, singles fly further than twins, but are slightly slower and less safe.
Twins fly faster and in general are safer than singles, but the price to pay is the necessity to carry a lot more fuel.
It goes without saying that an overhaul or at least a very thorough check must be made on the engine/engines. New spark plugs and filters should be fitted.
The oil burning rate is very important too. Indeed, it is no use to have huge amount of fuel if the engine is going to burn all its oil before the end of a leg. The amount of oil the engine is uses must be checked during many flights before the 'big flight' to make sure there will be some oil left in the engine at the end of a very long leg. For my longest leg between Hawaii and California I did overfilled the engines by 3 quarts and I still had 9 quarts left after 11 hours flying time. At a very low power setting, the oil burn is less than on a flight with a higher power setting.
It is necessary to carry a fair amount of oil as it is not uncommon to be able to refuel at some airports and find they have no oil. This can be replaced at airports where oil is available.
- The Pilot
- The Aircraft
- Survival equipment
- The Flight
3. Preparation :
Thorough preparations are the key to a successful flight, and time spent in preparation is an investment that will bear fruit throughout the flight.
Firstly it must be decided whether the flight is to be flown Eastbound or Westbound. Prevailing winds at altitude seem to dictate eastbound flights. The argument for westbound flights is that the flights are conducted towards the sun and that the days are longer. There have been more flights around the world eastbound than westbound in the ratio of 1 to 3.
Secondly, a choice of the countries to overfly is required, with some countries being 'easy', some 'difficult', and some simply 'impossible '. As an example, one cannot fly into an Arab country after having been to Israel. Another consideration should be political events such as wars, national unrest, and national and religious festivities. In Muslim countries it is best to avoid the time of Ramadan. Until now, in order to cross Russia, the authorities there impose on board a 'navigator-translator', and therefore a seat must be reserved for him.
Decisions to take days off must also be thought out. It could be every fourth day, or even every second day off, except when attempting a speed record, and even then one needs to be very aware that extreme fatigue can lead to accidents.
Typical oceanic itineraries :
Atlantic Ocean : 3 typical routes : North, Center and South.
North Route ( Summer Route) :
Goose Bay (Canada), Narsasuack (Greenland), Reykjavik or Keflavik (Island), Stornoway or Glasgow (Scotland).
Variations : :
Goose Bay, Reykjavik, Glasgow
Goose Bay, Frobisher, Sondre Stromflord, Kulusuk, Reykjavik, Stornoway, Glasgow
Central Route (Winter Route) : )
Gander (Newfoundland), Flores or Santa Maria ( Azores), Lisbon (Portugal)
Variation : departing from Bangor (Main, USA)
Southern Route :
Natal (Brazil), Dakar (Senegal)
Pacific Ocean : 3 typical routes : North, Center and South.
Northern Route :
Via Russia and the Bering Straight: Provideniya, Nome (Alaska)
Via Japan: Sapporo ( Hokkaido), Adak (Aleutian), Anchorage (Alaska)
Via the American Islands : Manila (Philippines), Saipan or Guam ( Marianna), Wake, Midway, Adak
Central Route (classic route) :
Nadi (Fiji), Pago Pago (American Samoa ), Kiribati (Christmas) (Kiribati), Hilo (Hawaii), Santa Barbara or Monterey ( California)
Southern Route :
Nadi (Fiji), Pago Pago (American Samoa ), Rarotonga ( Cook), Papeete (Tahiti), Totegegie (Gambiers), Easter island (Chili), Santiago
Indian Ocean : 2 routes:
Via Sri Lanka: Singapore, Penang (Malaysia), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Male (Maldives), Mahe (Seychelles), Mayotte (Comores)
Via Rodriguez: Mauritius, Rodriguez ( Mauritius), Cocos Keeling (Australia), Christmas
Time of the year. Cyclones and monsoons to be considered :
Southern hemisphere : Indian Ocean ; Madagascar, North part of Australia, South Pacific : Cyclones from December to March.
Northern hemisphere : West Indies, Philippines : Cyclones from July to August.
Gulf of Bengal : Summer monsoon from Mai to September. Winter monsoons from October to April : In other words quasi permanent bad weather.
Intertropical Convergence Zone : located in the Northern hemisphere in July and in the Southern hemisphere in January.
Most Earthrounders flew during the northern summer as most of the flights took place in the northern hemisphere.
One cannot just fly in a foreign country, especially those countries of the Middle East or Eastern Europe.
Permission, or a 'clearance' is needed. In most countries that clearance is only valid for a few days, or a few hours,
so the pilot must adhere to the terms of the clearance. To obtain clearances can be difficult for some one who has not
done it before, not knowing where to apply, but there are specialized firms who can do all the work for you. These people
are professionals and they know who to talk to, but such a service has a price. Overflight International, a British firm
based on the Isle of Man, specializes in the Middle East and offers good service. Other firms like Qantas, Universal,
and Jeppesen can supply the same services.
Independently of a clearance, it is very useful and sometimes necessary to have an 'agent' at the airport of arrival.
This is also a service that has to be paid for. In Asia especially, it is almost impossible to get through the multiple
formalities without the help of an agent. He knows where all the different offices are ; where and how to contact
customs, immigration, the refueller, how to get a taxi and so on. In the US, Canada, Iceland and Scotland, the local
FBO will come and offer their services immediately after landing. I used an agent in Pago Pago, Fiji, Cairo, Bahrain,
Muscat and Madras.
Very useful information on Clearances and details on airports and countries are being gathered from pilots "who have
been there" and are displayed on the "Earthrounders" Internet Site.
Maps and Approach Plates :
Jeppesen maps and Airways Manual are to be recommended. For a very long flight like flying around the world, the maps and plates are very bulky and heavy. I had them delivered at different points so did not have to carry them in totality all the way. I had some delivered in Los Angeles, Goose Bay and Paris.
Amendments for the Airways Manual are rather expensive. One can buy the minimum (mainly the maps) to do the planning, and buy a 'route kit' just a few weeks prior to departure, in the hope that there will be no changes while en route.
Base for support :
It is very handy to have a base to centralize communications. The person(s) manning the base must have a fair knowledge of aviation. As an example, if a weather forecast cannot be found locally, the base will get it through JepFax or any other means and will fax it to the pilot.
PNR, ETP :
The pilot must calculate his Point of non-return (PNR) and Equitime Point (ETP). With a twin, the PNR must also be calculated with the single engine speed.
Let's look at the formulas :
PNR : The formula is : PNR = End x (GS out x GS back) ÷ (GS out + GS back)
In which :
'PNR' is the distance beyond which one cannot come back to the point of departure with the fuel on board,
'End' is the endurance in hours,
'Gs out' is the ground speed out (knots),
'GS back' is the ground speed back (knots),
On a twin, to calculate the PNR with one engine out, the 'GS back' is the speed with one engine.
ETP : The formula is ; ETP = D x GS back ÷ (GS out + GS back)
In which :
'ETP' is the distance where the time to go there, is equal to the time to come back (NM),
'D' is the total distance of the flight (NM),
'GS out' is the ground speed out (knots),
'GS back' is the ground speed back ( knots).
Flight plans :
There is nothing worse after a long flight than to have to unroll maps in the poor light of a hotel room, and prepare for the flight the next day. The pilot needs rest, so flight plans, and alternative plans, should all be prepared in advance.
A large envelope with all the flight plans, logging sheets, maps, plates, customs declarations, etc., for each leg is ideal. After landing, the envelope for the next leg can be put in the pilot's hand luggage in readiness for the morning's trip to the briefing office to file the flight plan. This saves on unnecessary trips out to the aircraft, which at some airports, can prove to be difficult. The envelope of the past leg can be archived.
Customs Declarations :
It is a requirement when flying between countries to have a 'General Declaration', also called a 'GenDec'. For a private aircraft, it fills the role of crew manifest, passengers manifest, cargo manifest and heath declaration.
Model of General Declaration, (can be printed) : Click here for a model of Gen Dec
The GenDec must be stamped and signed by Customs at the place of departure, as this will be the first thing the customs officers will demand at the next landing point. For this reason it should be kept in a convenient and handy place. Some countries want it in many copies (up to 12… but normally 3 are sufficient).
Another point to remember, is the requirement of some countries to spray the interior of arriving aircraft with an insecticide before the doors are open. Some countries will accept this being carried out by the crew during the last stages of the flight, and may ask to see the can of insecticide. Insular countries like Australia and New Zealand are very strict on this, and one should not open the doors and alight without the proper permission.
Military bases :
In the middle of each major ocean there is a strategically placed military base which could very well be used by civilian pilots crossing those oceans. However, the military do not like civilian pilots using their bases, and normally prohibit their use.
In the Atlantic, is the island of Ascension ; in the Pacific Ocean, Midway and Johnston ; and in the Indian Ocean, Diego Suarez.
The rule is to avoid them, but as Don Taylor said :
'Try not to land on military bases.
Use any airport in an emergency and argue later.'
Several 'Earthrounders' have been 'forced' to use military bases and have luckily faired well.
Don Taylor landed on Midway in 1976 with his T18. He had to stay 16 days waiting for permission 'to land'. When the permission came, the US Air Force could not do to much to help him. From Midway, his next leg was to take him to Adak in the Aleoutian . It happened that a transport aircraft flew to Adak at the same time, giving him weather and wind information all along the leg.
Gaby Kennard landed on Johnston Island in 1989. That was long before the island became a repository and destruction center for chemical weapons. Nevertheless, she had to argue her case, that she would never have had enough fuel to reach Hawaii.
Johnston has since become a repository and destruction center for chemicals and other weapons. One pilot, ferrying a Baron from Tarawa to Hawaii had to land there after facing very strong head winds, and fearing he would not reach Hawaii. On short final, he feathered one engine declaring a loss of oil pressure. He was rather badly welcomed and he had to overfill his engine in front of the M.P. Finally, when the Americans discovered he was an ex-officer of the Australian Armed Forces, he was invited to the mess. As he was to spend the night he received the usual survival kit of automatic syringes, and was briefed on the different emergencies the island could face in case of lethal gases leaking. The personnel had to respond to each type of siren warning by immediately injecting themselves with a specific antidote. He was very happy when he left the next morning. When the stock pile of dangerous weapons has finally been destroyed, the island will revert to a national park. From the air it looks like an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Ocean.
The Internet Site of the Peace Movement Aotearoa of New Zealand gives a lot of information on Johnston Island :
Jon Johnston landed on Assencion in 1996 while crossing the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. He had trouble
convincing the Americans that he experienced a drop in oil pressure, but fortunately for him, the base is jointly
operated by the British and the Americans. The British officers helped Jon out. The worst that could have happened
would be the confiscation of his aircraft. Three years later, Dick Smith was given permission to land with his Caravan,
but then, not everybody has the name Dick Smith.
Several Internet Sites are giving information on countries and airports :
- The pilot
- The aircraft
- Survival equipment
- The flight
4. Survival equipment :
The chances of survival in the case of an incident or accident depend on the preparation, the state of mind and of the equipment available.
The first thing to have is a life jacket. One model is worn in a pouch on a belt and can be set with only one hand. Over water in a single engine aircraft, the life jacket must be worn all the time as there is no room to put them on and there will be no time to do so.
The next thing to have is a life raft with a roof. The raft must have a rope which can be hooked onto one the crew members' belt. Indeed, the raft when inflated will drift in the wind and will disappear in no time. A kit, containing water, food, flares, space blanket, and a marine radio set on the maritime distress channel (16), is necessary. Each crew member should have within easy reach, a hat, suncream and a personal ELT operating on 121.5 and 243 and now on 406 MHz. The aircraft ELT if it burns or sinks will be of little use.
The crew must also know how to evacuate the aircraft quickly in the case of a ditching. Land aircraft are not made to float, and sink very quickly.
In the cold waters of the North Atlantic, a thermal suit is necessary. Without protection, survival in cold water is only a
matter of minutes, even in summer. The thermal suits give flotation and protection from the extreme cold. With a thermal suit,
survival could be extended to hours, rather than minutes. In a single engine aircraft, thermal suits must be worn at all times
as there is not enough room in the cockpit to don them, nor is there enough time. The suits are warm, cumbersome
and uncomfortable, but it is possible to leave the top open, and to close it should the need arise. Horst Ellenberger went
down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when an oil line broke in his Bonanza. The story of his survival can be read on the 'Earthrounders' site on the 'Press' page :
For more information on survival visit :
The site contains a story of survival at sea very similar to Horst's and is well worth reading :
The site of the Equipped to Survive Foundation. Information on methods and sources for survival.
- The Pilot
- The Aircraft
- Survival equipment
- The Flight
5. The flight :
Independently of all other considerations, such as flight plans, amount of fuel to be carried, PNR, etc., there are four things that are of prime importance in order to fly a long leg :
- one must not be cold,
- nor thirsty,
- nor hungry,
- and one must be able to urinate.
A long flight cannot be achieved if these four conditions are not met. The mind must be able to concentrate on the very important tasks of the flight without to have to think about other matters which may be considered trivial, but are equally as important.
Not to be cold :
therefore the pilot must be properly dressed. Temperature in altitude can be very low and some aircraft have no heating. It is easy to shed clothing if it gets too warm. In winter, thick socks, gloves and a head cover are a necessity..
Avoid diuretics containing caffeine. Fruit juices in cardboard boxes with drinking straws are easy to use and are unbreakable.
Light snacks should be carried, or biscuits, and dried fruits. It is important not to be hungry as temporary hypoglycemia can reduce performance. A light snack before a difficult arrival can help.
To be able to urinate :
This might seem trivial but it is very important. On a flight of less than 3 hours, and without drinking too much prior to the flight, and avoiding drinks which act as diuretics such as tea, coffee and cola drinks, there should be no real problems. For longer legs, one must be able to urinate. This is not always easy, especially with a crew of mixed genders, but a solution must be found, as this is important. There are bottles similar to those used in hospitals, and special bags containing a powder that will turn any liquid into a jelly that does not run. When one knows he or she can urinate freely, one can drink. Dehydration is very dangerous as the mind does not function well in a case of dehydration.
Flight settings :
The pilot must know the engine setting for an economy cruise. These settings are critical for very
long legs over water. They must be tried and recorded. For these very long legs, there must be a
compromise between too high a speed that will produce too much parasitic drag, but fast enough to
avoid the high induced drag caused by high angles of attack. Remembering speed is costly in fuel,
for a very long leg, a low power setting, and low revs, as both propellers and engine are more
efficient at low revs, and leaning just on the rich side of peak, is a necessity. To give an
example, crossing the Pacific Ocean after reaching cruising altitude, I reduced power to 22
inches of MAP, reduced the revs to 2000 RPM and leaned to 1580 °F,( the maximum allowed for
the turbochargers being 1650°F).