Round the World: Ho-Hum?

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Here at AVweb, there are certain kinds of stories we have trouble with. By trouble, I mean deciding what to do with them, how to play them or even to run them at all. Aviation lawsuits are an example. We usually ignore these. Some crash stories are hard to place and record attempts and promotional stunts. These are sometimes one in the same.

So it was just before AirVenture we got an e-mail chiding us for…well, I'll quote the e-mail."Russ, you and your staff completely blew it. Here is the best aviation story of the year and you barfed. Of all the trivial BS you put on your site…and you miss this?" The writer, Pete Jessen, was referring to the recent round-the-world flight of Amelia Rose Earhart in a PC-12. Recall that this Amelia is a namesake of but no relation to the original who famously vanished in the Pacific in 1937.

We actually did cover the story, but because such promotions seem to come and go like the weather, we have trouble assigning much import to them. Jaded I guess. Ms. Earhart's accomplishment, wrote Jessen, was lining up the sponsors to ensure a successful flight and for that, "she deserves a ton of credit." OK, so here's the ton, or at least a few pounds worth. You can hear Ms. Earhart in her own words in this podcast recorded at AirVenture and decide for yourself how much credit is due or how important the flight was.

But back to promotional flights and records. Earhart's worthy goal was to raise money for training girls to fly. A laudable effort indeed, but do such things really achieve these goals or are they just ego flights on someone else's dime for the pilots? Are there better ways to do it without flogging an airplane around the world? A good question that I'm not sure I can answer. And that, I suppose, is why such stories don't get the editorial fires burning around here. Earhart's flight got coverage in the daily press, including short segments on the major networks. It's really only interesting because her name is Earhart. If it were Magillicutty, it would be just another PC-12 ferry flight. Does either promote aviation and grow the herd? Probably can't hurt, but my excitement meter isn't off the peg yet.

One effort that probably didn't help the aviation cause was another record attempt we reported on about the same time, that of Haris Suleman who, at 17, was attempting to be the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the globe in under 30 days. He earned his private license just in June and was accompanied by his father, Babar Suleman. Haris was found dead in the water off American Samoa and the father remains missing. Again, they were raising money for charity, with aviation as the high-profile vehicle to draw in the donations.

Given all the crazy, risky stuff I've done in my life, I'm the last guy to cluck over adventures like this one. Far be it for me to be the crusher of dreams. My view is to go for it, just don't screw it up. Still, the instant the story broke, I was reminded of another incident many of you may recall in 1996: the death of seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff in Cheyenne, Wyoming during an attempt to be the youngest person to fly across the U.S. in a light aircraft. The record, fueled by media attention, was utterly meaningless since no one maintains such records and she wasn't a rated pilot anyway. Her flight instructor was PIC. Ever seeking to be relevant, Congress piled stupidity upon tragedy by passing the Child Pilot Safety Act, essentially outlawing such stunts. Perhaps they'd have done better to require licenses to become adults—not adult pilots, just adults.

Not that there's anything remotely novel about stunts like these and they are just that. The original Amelia's global flight was dreamed up by her husband, George Putnam, to promote his publishing ventures and her image. She even had her own line of luggage and sportswear. Even Charles Lindbergh's epic New York to Paris flight fits into the category, since hotelier Raymond Orteig's $25,000 prize was meant to promote aviation. It had no specific technical goals or requirements beyond surviving the attempt to accept the check.

But in those days, there was no television or real-time web feeds, so audiences were forced to imagine what was happening between fuel stops and over remote oceans. That must have made those flights more electrifying, if not more relevant. And maybe that's just it. We're all over stimulated in an age when YouTube has videos of people jumping from buildings with a GoPros attached to their gonads, and even these aren't that unique. Maybe flying around the world is just so ho-hum, so ordinary that it doesn't rise above the daily noise, even if it's for charity or a world record.

Or maybe it's just me.

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Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (19)

I work in the aviation business, and have been approached as a "sponsor" for record making trips...and I am doing it for charity? After the person making the request realized I was on to the scam, I never heard from him or if he ever made the trip. I think it may have been a charity flight, but in reality it was more recreational flying and sure, he would get good press but I didn't feel the results were going to be worth the effort.

I do believe a lot of the "around the world trips" or "around the cape" type expeditions are getting to be ho-hum and what is the big deal? I remember reading about Linden Blue and his brother taking a Piper Tri-Pacer through South America in the 50's...which would be different than what is being done today.

First...communication. In the 50's, were they still using smoke signals in South America...did they ever use smoke signals? Today, buy an International calling card, and you call anywhere in the world and GET CONNECTED!!

Second, a Tri-Pacer is a limited performance aircraft whereby a lot of these around the world trips are in airplanes that are almost in the King Air class for luxury, performance, and capabilities.

Third...GPS navigation has changed the world. No longer were you flying "the compass and the clock" to get around the oceans, or navigate where there are no navaids. You have precise tracking, groundspeed, and location so what is the big deal?

I go back to the aviation age of romance, adventure, daring attitudes, and GUTS that were required before the world became modernized. I think this is why aviation has perhaps had its best times, because technology has made a lot of events that were challenging into an everyday occurrence.

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | August 12, 2014 8:23 PM    Report this comment

I for one am glad that Avweb doesn't throw up every press release that comes their way. I viewed this flight like the one Lindbergh's grandson made in crossing the Atlantic. I never heard of him until I started to see stories that were leading up to the flight. Now, we've all heard of him. All for making a crossing that is being done by ferry pilots and regular pilots now. Ferry pilots get my total respect because they don't get the opportunity to fly brand new, high tech, high performance aircraft across large bodies of water, or mountainous terrain. They derserve a news story; not people that are trying to up their exposure for their personal gain.

Both Lindbergh's grandson, and this woman are in it for themselves.

Posted by: Albert Dewey | August 13, 2014 3:26 AM    Report this comment

If their goal was to promote flight training for girls, wouldn't it have been better to spend all that money used for a publicity stunt on, you know, actually training girls to fly?

Posted by: Bob Martin | August 13, 2014 5:52 AM    Report this comment

"You can please some of the people some of the time ... but you can never please all of the people all of the time." ― Abraham Lincoln

Paul, it's just you. Flight about the traffic pattern is fulfilling and thrilling enough to me, thus circumnavigating the world in a helicopter, airship or airplane remains audaciously bold. Regardless.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 13, 2014 6:45 AM    Report this comment

Right on Paul! Let's see GPS ( probably several) - Check , Sat Phone - check, long range reliable Radios- check, modern engines and instruments - check, Coast Guard and satellite tracking - check,life rafts & survival suits- check. Ok .....ready for death defying ride at Disney World! Too many people wanting to claim to live on the edge but unwilling to take the leap! Thank god, those that went before us had a pair or we'd still be peering out of the cave entrance wondering what it was like outside.

Posted by: Carl Wilson | August 13, 2014 6:49 AM    Report this comment

I'm 66 years old and was living in Columbus, Ohio when, in 1964, Jerrie Mock, a Columbus housewife, circumnavigated the globe in 29 1/2 days - SOLO, in a 180. It was known as the Spirit of Columbus. Her book, "38 Charlie" has been re-released and it was a great read. From radio failures (one of which could have been sabotage) and international aviation challenges to learning more about the history of countries where she landed, I devoured the Kindle edition in a few days. She had flight planning assistance from Brig. Gen. Richard Lassiter at Lockbourne AFB but she truly set a record. It was 1964. No GPS or fancy nav systems. Even the motor for her long-wire HF antenna burned out and left her without long-range comm for most of the flight.

Amelia Rose Earhart's flight was a yawn compared to that of Jerrie Mock. I invite all readers to visit www.38charlie.com.

Sorry, Amelia, but flying around the world in a cabin-class single, fully loaded with the latest nav/comm gear and a company test pilot in the right seat just doesn't compare to what Jerrie Mock did 50 years ago.

Rob Reider

Posted by: Rob Reider | August 13, 2014 6:56 AM    Report this comment

Paul - you are so right. Last month I bumped into a low-grade TV celeb (& companion) on the ramp who has just got her pilots licence. The word was that she was planning a "round the World flight to raise money for charity". Even though it's been done many times, it's still not a risk-free endeavour, so I congratulated her, and we had a short and friendly conversation about her expedition. I asked if her companion was going to be her co-pilot, just to see if it really was "her" flight. She told me "No, he'll be flying the chase plane, a Cessna Caravan or Beech 99 if we can get one donated for free" So my image of her battling wind, weather, bureaucracy, making do or die decisions etc, vapourised and instead a vision of a film crew, nutritionalist, physiotherapist, makeup and pilates experts came into my mind, with her aviation decisions being made for her by her entourage.

Maybe I'm being cynical, but what's the point? She may as well sit in a glass box on top of a pole in central london for 30 days, and give the rest to charity.

Meanwhile, a pal who built and flew his own RV6 around he World, got nothing, and nobody was interested. It seems that one has to be part of a cult to get aviation sponsorship, the cult of celebrety.

regular reader,

Bill Allen

Posted by: Bill Allen | August 13, 2014 7:08 AM    Report this comment

Ever notice that once these publicity/charity/awareness raising exercises have their 15 nanoseconds of fame, you never hear any quantifiable results as to what it accomplished? As a result of the latest Earhart flight were women rushing out to take flight training? Were million$ donated for scholarships for women's careers in aviation? My guess would be that Pilatus was the winner.

One problem with these projects is they don't really rise to the interest level of a true stunt. Around the world in a PC-12, pretty much a foregone conclusion. The flying was probably rather boring, the food was likely more interesting.

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 13, 2014 7:26 AM    Report this comment

Recently I was musing over what Miss Earhart & GlobalGirl have done for aviation in contrast to what Audrey Poberezny has done for aviation. The fanfare & self promotion of the first two doesn't even begin to stand up to the selfless hard work & dedication that Audrey has given over the years with EAA. And all without any self promotion.

A very different approach, that I think is far more effective, and long lasting.

Personally I liked this round-the-world story, especially the way the pilot involved another in the final leg of the flight - raise enough money for the cause he was supporting, and you get to come along. What a great idea.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-28710976

"Mr McElroy has been accompanied in the cockpit since Goose Bay, Canada, by 19-year-old student pilot Michael Rose from Forfar, who secured his seat on the final leg of the adventure by raising funds for SCAA."

Posted by: Janet Davidson | August 13, 2014 8:01 AM    Report this comment

I think these "around the world" flights aren't doing a thing to promote aviation. Ask your non-aviation friends who Amelia Earhart is and they'll might tell you it's that woman who crashed into the Pacific. The "around the world" flights today do nothing but to prove that someone got enough money to do it. There's nothing impressive about flying a sophisticated PC-12 around the world. All it took was time and money. I think women like Earhart and Global Girl are self serving. When was the last time these women actually got more people into aviation? They cater to the existing aviation crowd to feed their own egos.

Posted by: Amy Zucco | August 13, 2014 8:25 AM    Report this comment

You mentioned Linden Blue and their Tri-Pacer adventure; don't forget Max Conrad used to fly his Piper Pacer across the North Atlantic in the 50s and that was a pretty big deal for the time. Unfortunately, with the advance of technology & improved reliability things that used to be heroic aren't so much anymore.

A friend of mine who is a ham radio operator said a similar thing about his hobby. Now that internet communication is so effortless anywhere and anytime, talking to people over the radio around the world or across oceans isn't as novel as it used to be and far less people get excited over it.

Posted by: A Richie | August 13, 2014 9:34 AM    Report this comment

Some question whether these flights actually do raise any money for charity. Most do not--but sometimes, they DO raise money--and just as important, they DO sometimes serve a purpose.

I sold a Baron model 58 to Douglas Cairns for a round-the-world flight. Douglas is a Scotsman--used to be an RAF pilot--and was diagnosed with diabetes--ending his flying career. When he found out that the U.S. would issue a medical certificate to someone with controlled diabetes, he decided to make the flight to show the rest of the world that diabetics CAN have full and productive lives. A flight like this is certainly challenging--long hours, little rest, lots of stress--the need to monitor every hour. Aside from raising money, he also met with doctors and aviation authorities around the world, seeking change to the prohibition on diabetes.

He made the flight--but required a safety pilot for landing in his home country. I had done some of the flight planning for him--I advised him that here in the U.S.--if we wanted to challenge authority, I would make the last leg END in Britain--would the authorities REALLY arrest him after flying all the way around the world? Ever the diplomat, he followed the letter of the law.

In each year afterward, he continues to do a fund-raiser and diabetes awareness flight. Check it out at http://www.diabetespolarflight.org/ He flew from Barrow to the North Pole--landing at a floating ice floe Russian research station. (You may have seen it on Flying Wild Alaska). He has done flights around the lower 48 states--transcontinental formation flights, and flights landing in all 50 states--all to raise money for Juvenile Diabetes (over $250,000 to date) and to raise diabetes awareness. He conducted a Forum at Oshkosh this year--work meant that he had to fly over, give the Forum, and fly right back--what dedication! With so many pilots now developing diabetes, it was especially relevant.

Even more than the money raised, he has been perhaps the single biggest influence on changing medical requirements for pilots around the world. The EU will now allow U.S.-style monitoring--and Britain allowed it--repealed it due to administrative issues--and will now allow it.

Are there self-serving charlatans? Certainly--just like those that hit every business up for a donation--but there are also those who really have change and charity at heart. Like anyone that asks for your money, you need to know what they plan to do with it.

Posted by: jim hanson | August 13, 2014 11:18 AM    Report this comment

"Ever notice that once these publicity/charity/awareness raising exercises have their 15 nanoseconds of fame, you never hear any quantifiable results as to what it accomplished?"

I've noticed, for sure. I agree that they appear to be more about feeding their own egos than anything else, with the self-justification that "it's for a good cause". But as Paul says, if they want to do it, fine. Just don't tell me that it requires making a high-cost stunt like flying around the world in a modern aircraft to raise awareness of such-and-such.

"Does either promote aviation and grow the herd? Probably can't hurt, but my excitement meter isn't off the peg yet."

I think it can be argued that they have no effect on promoting aviation, and possibly might even have a negative effect. I know my first reaction is usually one of "oh, another someone with far more spare time and money than I could ever find", but at least as a pilot I can appreciate some of the challenges. However, those outside of aviation are likely to see it as just another over-privileged someone wasting resources that could otherwise be spent on something more laudable.

The one about McElroy, though, that might actually be worth something. Share the experience of flight with someone who isn't (yet) a pilot and show them the experiences that can be made only through aviation, and we might be able to get more people interested in it.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 13, 2014 11:19 AM    Report this comment

I've never been a fan of making comparisons between the 'gloried past' and today when it comes to the altruism or nobility of personal effort. Today's youth, in my view, don't live there. The long, hard road in anything is unnecessary, wasteful and obtuse to them. Get over it.

Of course they know it can be done, to fly around the world. So, how fast can you do it? How many did you connect with on social media? Did you use the coolest equipment available? Nodding to Richard above, how does the latte compare in France to ours?

They don't romanticize an old typewriter, Cub or 18 hour workdays. We have to get over ourselves a bit on this view, I suggest. Where a pilot of old worried about the fuel gauge, a pilot of today might worry about being shot down. Or worse, Facebook crashing mid-flight.

It's all good in my view. I've run a baker's dozen marathons, every one different in their own way and circumstances, but none easier than another. Maybe a few girls looked up to Earhart's recent flight and are thinking about flying. They certainly aren't impressed, I offer, with much of anything from the black-and-white, old past of aviation.

Posted by: David Miller | August 13, 2014 1:27 PM    Report this comment

Paul: (and the responders): Bravo. It is refreshing to see so many others commenting about the dubious "benefit" (if that word can even be used in this context), of such an endeavor. You know my feelings about things like this from past conversation on similar (albeit much less worthy) causes. Either you or one of the responders pondered how much of the cost of this stunt was paid for from the collected donations and how much actually found its way to the intended cause. I have suspicions it wasn't much but could be wrong. This stunt might be worthy of some celebration if it actually did accomplish its goal (other than to give a couple of folks a paid flying holiday around the world paid for with other people's money). I looked to see if there was any media reports or other comments about this from the source and could find none.

Posted by: JEFF OWEN | August 13, 2014 1:37 PM    Report this comment

Just a reminder folks, please keep the comments civil or at least non-lilbelous. I had to remove one just now.

All are welcome to offer comments, even critical comments. But please do keep them within bounds. Thanks.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 13, 2014 6:27 PM    Report this comment

You are right on Paul. I always thought it would be better to donate the money spent on these flying stunts directly to charity in the first place. I can't imagine people donating to a charity only because some pilot is going to fly around the world or across the US.

Posted by: FRED EISERT | August 14, 2014 7:38 AM    Report this comment

It is worth noting that Ms. Amelia's website never included a scholarship application form in her website.

Regardless, you mentioned effectiveness. 1 million dollar could buy 13,333 hours of C172 with instructor anywhere across the United States. That could pay for a 30-minute 'taste of flight' for close to 40,000 girls (3 per airplane), perhaps more given the level of buying power. As an alternative, such amount would allow about 200 to earn a Private Pilot certificate, free of charge. Whatever the option selected, the economic impact on GA and the growth of the female pilot population in the U.S. would be noticeable and tangible.

Posted by: Flying Bug | August 16, 2014 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Donating is a very personal thing that people and companies do for very specific reasons of their own choosing. Some of the reasons may not be readily apparent to to the beholder.

For people looking to promote aviation education, who want a valid 501(c)(3) tax deduction and who want to make sure their money goes to support the cause, there are MANY small legitimate grass roots charities out there in desperate need of funds. They are all too often lost and out of the public eye because they are small and the folks that run them operate on a small budget doing great things for people, but they are not well versed in marketing or do not have the time or resources to mount a marketing campaign. Aviation Adventures, Inc. In FL is one such entity. We work with kids in underserved communities bringing aviation - hands on aviation and STEM education to a group who did not know that participation in the industry was possible. Our programs, run often in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs, won a national award for education and career development. We work strictly with volunteers and ALL of the donations we receive go to programs for the kids.

Please know that there a lot of us are out there working our hearts out to promote aviation, educate our youth, and get people licenses as pilots. We can use any public support that we can get. Look us up on Guidestar, check us out and decide for yourself what charities or causes you feel compelled to support.

Posted by: Terry Carbonell | August 19, 2014 7:40 PM    Report this comment

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