African Pilot

Bill Harrelson breaks record

Almost 60 years after Max Conrad set a westbound around-the-world record, Bill Harrelson and his Lancair IV have broken the record wide open.


Completing the journey in five legs, Harrelson landed back

in Ontario, California, with a trip duration almost 20 hours ahead of Conrad’s Piper Aztec-flown record. All told, Harrelson flew just over 120 hours. According to his blog, once he landed, his immediate plans were to rest. Once he has recovered and the weather improves in Virginia,

he will fly home. Just another 2000 miles or so!

With a route, including legs from Ontario to Honolulu, then to Jakarta, Cape Town, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and back to Ontario, the longest leg was Hawaii to Jakarta at 32 hours and 10 minutes, though the Cape Town to San Juan leg was only marginally shorter. Harrelson’s flight was to begin in Florida, but a mechanical issue caused a diversion to Austin, Texas and a combinatio­n of unexpected headwinds and further mechanical gremlins caused him to turn back toward California on 6 December. An ignition system issue solved; Harrelson reposition­ed to Ontario to restart the journey on 8 December. He landed again in Ontario just after 21h00 local time on 16 December. Conrad’s flight began on 27 February 1961 and ended on 8 March averaging just more than 106 knots.

In order to travel such long distances, Harrelson’s Lancair IV was fitted with a series of fuel tanks totalling 361 US gallons (1366 litres). Key to his system is a 15-gallon header tank that feeds the Barrett-built IO-550 engine directly and is fitted with redundant quantity indicators. Fuel getting to the header tank comes through a valve that normally manages the enlarged wing tanks. However, Harrelson added four separate tanks of which two were collapsibl­e, to the backseat area and replaced the copilot seat with two tanks, one being positioned in the foot well. Harrelson managed the flow from these eight tanks manually and said: “that by careful design virtually all the fuel was usable.”

Bill’s stop in Cape Town, after being airborne for 28hrs 41min, was facilitate­d by Raw Maintenanc­e AMO 1422. Bill arrived at sunrise and left again in the early evening allowing only a few hours, whilst he had some much-deserved sleep at a nearby hotel. The team at Raw Aviation undertook an oil change and attended to minor snags and issues with the aircraft. A total of 1 150 litres of AVGAS was uploaded into specially designed bladder tanks and completely ‘wet wings’ before Bill departed Cape Town. The autopilot is not designed to work with this full fuel load and Bill must hand fly 6ZQ for the first few hours during which time, according to Bill, she is a ‘horrible and terribly unstable beast’. Bill landed in Ontario, California on 16 December where the unofficial countdown timer was stopped with 19hrs 28mins to spare.

Whilst Harrelson waits for official FAI approval for his most recent flight, he can still point to two previous world records. In 2013, Harrelson set a distance record for the C-1, D class, at more than 7051 NM, by flying nonstop from Guam to Jacksonvil­le, Florida. His second record was a pole-to-pole attempt in 2015 completed in just under 25 days and 174.9 flying hours, covering an actual 31,118 NM at an average speed of 37.9 knots.

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