Stafford pilot aims for another around-the-world record

Stafford County pilot Bill Harrelson posed in his Lancair IV plane after his 2015 flight around the world.

FREDERICKSBURG — A Stafford County pilot who already holds two world aviation records plans to take off from a Florida airport Thursday afternoon in hope of setting a third record, this one for circling the globe along the equator.

Bill Harrelson, 69, will fly the same specially built Lancair IV single-engine plane that he piloted for the two records four years ago.

As he has in past attempts, Harrelson will depend on a six-person ground support team led by his wife, Sue. She is also a veteran aviator and small-aircraft builder who retired from an airline career.

The Harrelsons live at Dogwood Air Park, a private aviation community in southern Stafford.

Bill Harrelson set a distance record flying nonstop from Guam to Jacksonville, Fla. And in 2015, he circled the Earth crossing both poles, starting and ending at Kinston, N.C.

Both previous flights were certified by the FAI, an international aviation organization that validates records. The record Harrelson is going after now — circumnavigating the globe, westbound, in a small piston-powered plane — was set 58 years ago by Max Conrad.

The privately sponsored effort does include small donations, mostly from companies that have assisted Harrelson in preparing and carrying out the flight, which is expected to take as long as seven days from takeoff to landing back in St. Petersburg, Fla. He plans to start his journey at 5 p.m. Thursday.

There are countless challenges in planning and preparing a flight like this one, Harrelson said.

Some seem obvious, others not. For instance, when a reporter visited his hangar Tuesday morning, the Pacific Island of Mauritius revoked Harrelson’s permit to pass through air space it controls. Even though he expects to pass no closer than about 350 miles from the island, an official ruled against it.

The approval questions alone take an enormous amount of time and energy to deal with, he said. Harrelson expected he would find a solution to this last-minute glitch.

One significant problem in a westbound flight around the globe is the challenge of headwinds, which lead to higher fuel use and take a bite out of ground speeds.

The Lancair he will fly is essentially as it was in 2015, although there is a new ignition system on the engine that will help reduce fuel consumption.

Leaving St. Petersburg, Harrelson will cross the continent, continue to Honolulu and land at his first stop, where he will get some sorely needed sleep. From Hawaii, he will fly to Jakarta, Indonesia, for a second stop. From there, he will fly an even longer leg to Cape Town, South Africa.

The longest leg of the trip will carry Harrelson from the southern tip of the African continent to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The final leg will complete the journey, taking the Virginia plane and its pilot back to their starting point in St. Petersburg.

Asked about dealing with long flights, mostly over open ocean, Harrelson said it’s vital to have many things to do. With 10 fuel tanks to manage, changing weather to deal with and hourly reports to the support crew, he’ll be busy.

Those hourly reports include passing along readings on 18 items of information on the condition not only of his airplane but his own health.

Anyone wishing to track Harrelson’s flight can do so at 6zqpilot.com.

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