There are a handful of helicopter adventurers who have attempted the around-the-world speed record in helicopters. Simon Oliphant-Hope holds the current eastbound record. Based on the south coast of England, he is the owner and managing director of Shoreham based Eastern Atlantic Helicopters. In June 2004, he flew a MD 500E around the world in 17 days, 14 hours, 2 minutes, and 27 seconds beating the previous record of 24 days, 4 hours, 36 minutes, and 24 seconds set 10 years earlier by Ron Bower in a Bell 206B3. Bower and John Williams still hold the westbound record of 17 days, 6 hours, 14 minutes, and 25 seconds. Most attempts are eastbound to take advantage of winds.
Oliphant-Hope’s helicopter was a modified 1982 MD 500E that holds the distinction of being the only one certified for single-pilot IFR. An additional fuel tank was installed in the rear cabin that increased capacity from 60 gallons to 150 gallons giving the helicopter an endurance of more than five hours.
He didn’t just beat the old record; he crushed it by an amazing six-plus days. He accomplished this by carefully planning his route to optimize climate and light conditions while complying with the three basic rules required by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (the sole official source of international aviation records):
- The flight must cross all lines of longitude
- The total distance must be a minimum of 19,850.83 nm (the distance around the globe at the Tropic of Cancer)
- The flight must be between the Arctic and Antarctic circles
Looking at the map might give the impression he got lost flying through the United States. Not so, it was carefully planned to comply with the minimum distance required.