The Flight for the Human Spirit
I had always wanted to fly. Some of my earliest memories are of looking at the sky in wonderment at the clouds. Watching birds in flight had always amazed me, and seeing an airplane or a jet soar through the sky prompted fascination and caused me to imagine flying through the sky and seeing the world below from a different viewpoint. I knew that someday I would become a pilot, but somehow through the years, I managed to find every excuse that I should to not fly. I would often think thoughts such as "I don't have an airplane" or "I don't have the money," or "It's not the right time." But yet, the visions in my mind would not go away.
It was a dream of mine that I nearly waited too long to fulfill. In August of 2003, I became very ill. My strength was drained, and my dreams of flying became replaced by hopes of someday simply being strong enough once again to walk outside and feel the sun on my face. It took a year and a half to recover, and as I recovered there was one thing that I promised myself: "To live my life with no regrets." I would say what was important to say, and I would begin to listen to my heart speaking more than I would listen to my mind until my thoughts were full of peace.
As I laid in bed, there was one thought that would not go away. I knew that I had to fly an airplane into all fifty of the United States. At the time it seemed as an improbable task, but yet the visions were very real as I imagined what it would feel like to push the throttle forward and pull the control stick back as I soared into the sky. These visions of flight gave me encouragement and a common goal for my existence. They prompted me to strive for a place of wellness and health.
It took several years to plan the trip that I would call "The Flight for the Human Spirit." With my health finally restored, I began to research the aircraft that I would fly, and what steps needed to be taken in order to obtain a pilot's license. In 2004, the United States government introduced what was called the "Sport Pilot's License." This license allowed pilots to fly with only a few restrictions:
- You could only fly a Light Sport Aircraft
- You could not fly higher than 10,000 feet, and
- You could not fly at night.
These restrictions fit easily within my plans and I set out to find the aircraft that I wanted to use for this trip. At the time, there were over eighty different airplanes to choose from. There was a large variety of Light Sport Aircrafts mainly manufactured in Europe. They had many different methods of construction and materials. I only had a few requirements that actually helped to select the perfect airplane.
The aircraft that I would use needed to:
- Be able to withstand over 32,000 kilometers of flight in any type of condition imaginable. It would have to endure winds, rain, and the stress of over 200 landings and take-offs.
- Be easily transportable. At the time of planning we needed to put the aircraft into a trailer and ship it to Alaska through the Canadian Rockies, then we would have to ship it over the ocean to Hawaii. I also wanted the flexibility of taking it to schools for children to see an aircraft outside of the familiar airport setting.
- It would also need to carry as much usable weight as possible. The aircraft that would be selected would carry extra equipment, and the supplies necessary for a 32,000 kilometers journey. Most of the available aircraft allowed for two adults and only a small amount of excess weight.
These requirements brought me to only three manufacturers, and the final selection was for the Remos GX aircraft manufactured in Germany. This aircraft has the Rotax 100 hp engine and is made of carbon fiber material. It was light, and had foldable wings...it seemed to be the perfect fit for my needs.
We named this mission: "The Flight for the Human Spirit" because that is what it represented. It was to inspire others all around the world to follow their own dreams, and to live their life with no regrets. Our goal was to reach 50 million people with the message that it is never, EVER too late to follow your dreams.
This was a project that started with only a dream, and yet we had the ambitions to touch the world. At the time, we had no idea how this flight would be received, we simply were acting in good faith that we were doing the right thing.
It took six months to complete my flight training. Learning to fly was more difficult than imagining to fly...but as with anything that we try to do...I simply needed to practice until it became natural. I will never forget the day when I was lined up to land on the runway, and it just felt natural to me. I said to my instructor, "I know how to land now!" My fear of landing an airplane began to become smaller that day.
Once I obtained my pilot's license, I had less than six months to train for The Flight. I began to fly into different airports as often as possible. I tested the climbing abilities of The REMOS, and I flew on longer trips. One of my first trips came only two weeks after I obtained my license. We flew from Denton, Texas to Tampa, Florida (about 2,000 kilometers one way). It was a learning experience in itself as I had another pilot flying an airplane next to me. He helped to answer my questions as well as directed me to plan a trip and fly it. I will never forget looking at the west coast of Florida at the Gulf of Mexico and thinking that my dream of flying has been fulfilled. I wrote in my pilot logbook, "If I never fly again...it is all worth it."
Our take-off date was April the 8th from Salina, Kansas. It was the most central large airport in the United States. We originally had 135 scheduled stops and a total distance of 32,000 kilometers. There was no other historic flight in the world that included that many airports. The other reason for selecting this airport is because it is the same airport that Steve Fossett took off from in his Global Flyer Mission. Steve flew a jet aircraft solo non-stop around the world from Salina, KS. It was truly an honor to be at that airport where so much aviation history had taken place. I dedicated my take-off to the memory of Steve as we observed a moment of silence to honor him.
After a brief ceremony, my wife Michele and I took off into the blue Kansas sky. The air was calm and clear, but winds were expected to increase throughout the day. As we flew onward to Abilene which was only a fifteen minute flight...I became calm, we were finally on our way.
As we arrived in Kansas City, the winds were already strong...in fact they were so strong that we had to wait one and a half hours for the winds to become calm enough to fly. The first day ended in Columbia, Missouri which brought peace to us as time passed. My daughter drove out to Missouri to meet us and I'll never forget how quiet the three of us were as we sat down to eat our meal. At first we were tense, but as we ate our soup...we became calmer. Soon we were laughing and planning the flight for the next day.
Over the next several days, we flew onward toward the east coast. Everywhere that we went, people had come to meet us and talk about The Flight for the Human Spirit. The more that we flew, we saw that our goal was being fulfilled as others talked to us about their dreams, and how they were inspired by this flight.
Everything was not exactly as planned however. In calculating how long the trip would take, I reviewed the weather over the past ten years and calculated that we would have 35 weather delay days. Since this flight was all visual and not by instruments, we would need clear skies or at least broken clouds. We would also need winds less than 20 knots per hour and fly during the day time. During the first two weeks of The Flight, I quickly realized that my original projection of 35 weather delay days would not be enough. In total, I found that we had over 76 weather delay days over the course of the trip.
The REMOS aircraft was flawless. The only problem that we had with it was a flat front tire at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and a GPS unit that needed replacing. I'll talk about these events in future articles.
Seeing the Atlantic Ocean come into the horizon was a very welcome feeling. We had reached the east coast! It had a dark blue color, and stretched out as far East as I could see. To a new pilot, it was a great feeling of accomplishment to know that through the wonder of flight I was able to personally fly an airplane far beyond the boundaries of my home area. New adventures awaited, and we had many more people to meet. Television crews met us, Radio shows talked to us, Newspaper reporters greeted us, and best of all our fans were there every step of the way.
In the next article I'll talk about flying over the highest part of the country, and what it was like to fly through Canada and into Alaska.