When Capt. John Bone pilots his single engine Cirrus SR22 into Cleve Randolph Field at the Apalachicola Regional Airport as early as this Sunday, probably later in the week, he’ll be able to claim a distinction few can.
In fact, fewer than 120 pilots have ever done it, and far fewer than that have ever done it by flying westward.
Bone will have flown solo around the entire planet, alone in the sky, over the past six weeks, and he will have done it the hard way, by flying west.
“Solo circumnavigations are fewer, and not very many go westbound,” said the seasoned 66-year-old aviator, a veteran of 37 years flying for Delta Airlines, on the night before he embarked from Apalachicola early Sunday morning, Oct. 29.
Bone will have flown more than 20,000 miles, making 16 stops and visiting 11 countries when he touches back down in the days ahead.
He will have joined an elite among pilots, dating back to 1933 , when the American Wiley Post piloted his Lockheed Vega “ Winnie Mae “ eastward around the globe in just six hours short of eight days.
And he’ll be a member of an even more exclusive club of only a dozen pilots who have ever done it by flying westward, dating back to 1980-81, when the German Henning Huffer became the first to do it, behind the cockpit of a Mooney M20J .
“I’m going westbound because it’s daylight. You go west because the day is longer,” said Bone. “If you look at weather around the planet, November and December are more benign months for weather. The monsoon weather season is over in Asia.”
Wind is a reason why most pilots prefer the eastward route. “You got some wind issues. Normally the winds blow from west to east, so you’re going to have headwinds,” Bone said. “If you go westbound you got daylight. The other way you would be flying at night. I like to fly in daytime.
“Plus, being a basic romantic at heart, a westbound flight involves maybe 15 sunsets. Think about that, flying around the world and every leg you see a sunset,” he wrote on his blog at www.forgottencoastflyers.com. “Julie Wang, who was the first Chinese woman to fly around the world, when interviewed about her flight, was asked ‘What was your favorite part of the flight?’ and her response was “The sunsets.’ So there you have it, the reason for a westbound flight around the world is ‘to see the sunsets.’”
Does some marlin fishing in Guam
On Tuesday, Bone flew from Hurghada, Egypt, a small seaside resort on the Red Sea, to Urbe Airport in Rome. Italy, a variation from his original plan to land in Reggio di Calabria, a Mediterranean resort town in southern Italy.
To get this far, more than halfway around the world, Bone flew that first leg Sunday morning in late October, from 7 a.m. to noon, to Conroe, Texas, for a fish taco brunch, and then to Cochise County, Arizona, both variations from his original flight plan, before finishing a grueling 14-hour day, in Merced, California, north of Fresno, for his first big layover. For four days, he waited for two additional tanks to be installed, an 100-gallon in the back and a 40-gallon in the co-pilot’s seat. “When they’re full, you lose about five knots,” he said. “You pick it back up again as you burn it off.”
Once he had favorable weather, he flew a 13-hour leg to Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, and after spending the night, took off on Nov. 12 for Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where he had arranged ahead of time to ship three 55-gallon drums of aviation gas.
“The plan was to refuel the plane Friday, Nov. 17 and depart for Guam on Saturday. However; at pizza night at Robert Remiers, I learn that there is a marlin tournament Saturday,” he wrote on his blog. “$40 later I’m a member of the Majuro Marlin Club and fishing the tournament Saturday!”
Flying next on to Guam, Bone paid a visit to the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Washington. From there it was on to Subic Bay in the Philippines, to the site of a former U.S. Navy airbase, now in joint use with a Philippine Airlines for a flight training academy.
After a quick search for the mysterious spot where famed aviator Amelia Earhart once disappeared, and a delay waiting for clearance, Bone visited the site of the infamous Bataan Death March, and spent Thanksgiving with the Peter Crawford family in Subic Bay.
From there it was deep into southeast Asia, crossing over the Mekong River delta between Vietnam and Cambodia and landing in Rayong, Thailand on a more than 11,000-foot-long runway at the airport there that served as a B-52 base during Vietnam, where Bob Hope once performed for American troops.
Bone then flew to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in Nagpur, Maharashtra, India, and then to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, where he visited a Cirrus service center.
In part because he has a contract as a flight instructor for Cirrus, the Duluth, Minnesota firm that is the largest maker of single engine general aviation aircraft, Bone is motivated by a desire to not only earn the distinction of having circumnavigated the globe, alone, but to document his trip in a way that provides guidance to future intrepid aviators.
“Part of the reason I’m doing this is to be writing a how-to-do it manual,” he said. “I’ve got some other Cirrus owners who want to try it.”
Bone said in his year’s worth of planning, he read several books by others who have made the trip. “Most are their personal experience,” he said. “What I found lacking is the technical data. I want to provide a data point for future aviators on how to make such flights.”
Challenging North Atlantic leg awaits
Taking such a trip is by no means cheap and easy, with a price tag of about $150,000 once you factor in lodging, permits, changes to the aircraft and fuel that can cost as much as $16 a gallon in remote airports.
Bone had a ham radio installed in his plane, tracking devices and an antenna, and plans to share in his book details on everything from how to modify a plane, to how to obtain permits and to file flight plans.
Moving just north of the equator, and avoiding both Russia, where aviation fuel is hard to find, and China, which is expensive to fly over, Bone has planned his trip carefully. “It’s $180 to overfly Vietnam,” he said. “China would cost $2000.
“I put a lot of thought into this route, to avoid any country I shouldn’t be going into,” he said. “I’m crossing a lot of countries here that won’t give you a permit unless you can show proof of liability and search-and-rescue insurance.”
One such leg of his trip, which he says is the most challenging, is coming up now, right after he goes from Rome to Madrid, Spain, where he will visit a Cirrus service center. From there he’s headed to Santa Maria, in the Azores, off the coast of Portugal, which he describes as “one spectacular place.”
After that he has to cross the North Atlantic, on a lengthy 14-hour leg to St. John, Newfoundland, in Canada, one which required him to get special sea survival training in Groton, Connecticut, and to wear a Switlik survival suit, like Coast Guard pilots do.
“The water’s cold, the air temperature’s cold and you have a lot of icy conditions there that are a problem,” he said. “It’s the most difficult leg. I have to wait for a nice clear day to do it. I could be there for a while. But weather forecasting and reporting is so outstanding, I’m not too concerned.”
Out of Newfoundland, it will be on to Hartford, Connecticut, a not-too-busy airport that has customs, and from there it’s home sweet home.
Bone is flying as a member of the National Aeronautics Association of Washington, DC and the flight will be conducted in accordance with the sporting requirements set forth by the Federation Aeronautique International of Lausanne, Switzerland for solo circumnavigations.
His is also a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Association of Flight Instructors, the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association and the Airline Pilots Association.
A Utah native, who earned his pilots license at age 17, before he could drive, Bone said he munches on beef jerky, protein bars, nuts and canned fruit, as he listens to music, mainly country, as he flies.
“It’s busier than you might think it is,” he said. “There’s plenty to do. There’s no shortage of tasks to be completed.
“Once you get going it’s sort of a Zen experience,” he said.