It is every pilot's dream to fly around the world, and this ultimate destination must surely have haunted all those who navigate. And what a better way to do it but to do it solo, all alone ?
The first solo flight around the world was made by a young German noble, Baron F.K. Koenig-Warthausen. At 21 years of age, and with only a few hours flying experience, he flew from Berlin to Moscow and continued around the world.
Another adventurer was a speed loving English lady, the Honourable Mrs. Victor Bruce, who, with only a few weeks flying experience, set off in 1930 and flew around the world in her small biplane.
Also a German lady pilot, Elly Beinhorn, also in a Klemm, flew around the world in 1931. None of them could fly their aircraft across the high seas, and all three made their crossings aboard liners.
The first "true solo" pilot was Wiley Post in 1933 in his Vega, the "Winnie Mae". in 1931 Post flew around the world with Harold Gatty as his navigator, as he wanted to beat the speed record made by the Graf Zeppelin. Then he flew again, alone this time in 1933. Both of Post's flights were relatively short, having been made high in latitude, and Post's flight in 1933 saw him break his own record made in 1931. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale stipulates a minimum distance for around the world records to be greater than the length of the Tropic of Cancer which is 22.858.7 statue miles / 19,860 NM, or 36,780 km.
No other solo flights were made prior to WW II, though a few 'around the world' flights took place after the end of the war, with the first solo flight taking place in 1951. Pilots of these times, like Max Conrad, Geraldine Mock, and Joan Merriam Smith, had to navigate by dead reckoning, with only a few radio beacons to help them. Another, Sheila Scott, flew around the world three times, an achievement that has not been repeated to this day ( it has been repeated by John Johanson in 2001). Another pilot, Don Taylor became the first to fly his own amateur built aircraft around the world. They were all true pioneers who will remain famous forever.
Another era was brought about by the Global Positioning System, more commonly known as the GPS. This system, based on triangulation from satellites, was set up by the Department of Defense of the United States in the late 70'. It is now widely used by the civilian population on land, sea, and air, and has revolutionized the art of navigation. For a few hundreds dollars and without the need for any deep knowledge, one can know their position within a few feet anywhere on earth by day or night. Today, without diminishing the merit of pilots flying on long flights, or flying around the world, their task is now less difficult than that experienced by the pioneers of the 50's and the 60's. At the present time (year 2000) there is on average, two 'around the world' flights, made every year.
Having flown solo around the world in 1966, I was keen to seek out other pilots who had preceded me in this achievement. I had heard of Wiley Post in the Winnie Mae, and of Sheila Scott, as their names were already well known. Living in Australia, I had followed fellow Australians Gaby Kennard, Peter Norvill, and Dick Smith, throughout their flights. I also knew of New Zealander Cliff Tait and his adventures, as I own a similar Airtourer to the one that took him around the world. Having built my own airplane, a Jodel, I followed Don Taylor and Jon Johanson in their amateur built aircraft with great interest. I had also followed Sheik Hamad Al Thani's record setting flight in an Aerostar, as my own solo flight around the world was in an Aerostar. However, I knew there were many others unknown to me, so it was with enormous interest that I went in pursuit of them. These unknown pilots and their great achievements needed to be recognized, thus the reason behind my research.
I commenced by gathering details of all those pilots who had flown around the world solo; that is, without any crew. There are many documented 'around the world' flights which have been made by military aircraft and airlines, but these all had enormous support both in the air and on the ground, and were, in the main, huge publicity campaigns, costing millions. My interest lay in the traditional solo flights undertaken by the pioneers, their problems, how they were solved, and of their success in succeeding alone. Today, in a world which is getting increasingly smaller, adventure is still alive for those who wants to find it..
Aviation records relating to speed, distance, and altitude, are controlled and recorded by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, or F.A.I., whose Headquarters have just been moved from Paris, to Lausanne, in Switzerland. This documentation makes these records easier to find, but unfortunately, not all pilots file for records. Also, as records are broken and replaced by newer ones, the old records become increasingly harder to find. All 'around the world' flights are not recorded by the FAI, even some included in the "Guinness Book of Records". Regrettably, I may have missed some pilots and their flights, especially those accomplished without publicity, thus leaving little or no trace. The pilots I could find, I tried to meet, and this took me across the United States, Europe and the Middle East. In my quest, the friendships that developed from these meetings will remain with me forever, a sort of brotherhood. The research was both fascinating and rewarding, and I would like to share the results of my research with you.
It could be asked: What drives these pilots to expose themselves to such danger and to spend so much time and money in flying around the world ? What gives them the desire to go further than others: to be noticed or the need to prove to themselves and others that they can do it ? Each pilot responds differently, but they all have in common that same taste for adventure, individualism and freedom.
This site is about pilots who flew alone around the world. That is pilots who were on their own to battle against the
elements, the difficulties of their flight and the bureaucracy of some countries, pilots who succeeded alone, in the true
spirit of the pioneers. For many reasons it is incomplete as some flights are difficult to find. Some pilots keep information
on their flights in order to write a book, some prefer to remain unknown. We shall respect their rights. I will probably stop
my research toward the time when the ¨GPS¨ system of navigation began to be available to civilian pilots and when
long flights and round the World flights, although still being difficult, are easier than in the time of the pioneers.
But I will make an exception to that rule to describe my own solo flight around the World in 1996 :
This site is still under construction and clearly not finished. It may never be finished. New information keeps trickling in, confirming or modifying previous data. This site is the result of several years of research, however, I do not pretend to know everything on the subject, and any new information will be much appreciated. All comments are welcome, flowers and brick bats…. Do not hesitate to e-mail me.
Thank you for visiting the site. Our aim is to inspire and help other pilots with similar dreams, and it is hoped you find it an interesting, informative, and enjoyable experience.
Happy reading and safe landings.
Last update : September 24, 2013
Copyright © Claude Meunier 2000, 2013