As pilots we know there are magnetic forces that act upon the planet as well as our airplanes—magnetic variation (or declination) and deviation. Magnetic deviation is the effect our individual airplanes have on our compasses. Magnetic variation is the difference between magnetic north (compass needle north in response to the earth’s magnetic field) and true north (the difference from a location to the north geographic pole). The Magnetic variation of the planet is changing slowly and moves approximately one kilometer per year.
During my navigation preparations for my Polar Circumnavigation in my aircraft, Citizen of the World, I have come to realize that finding true north is not as easy as I thought. Most GPS units get confused over the poles and fail at critical moments. Luckily for pilots, the Avidyne IFD 550/440 with synthetic vision is available and uses a different coordinate system than other units, which eliminates the problem. With Avidyne’s system I’m only required to push a few buttons to find my way to true north.
I see aviation as a metaphor for life so this brings up a new set of questions for me: What things affect my personal navigation? What factors affect my personal and moral compass? What path should I take? Where am I headed?
To find answers to heady questions like these, which are best pondered by philosophers and/or pilots with too much time on their hands, I often walk in Balboa Park, a place that is rich with aviation history dating back to the days when renowned aviator Charles Lindbergh walked there. Every day my walk in the park is different and reveals new ideas and insights to me; it’s the one place I go to when I need answers. Rather than trying to “figure things out,” I put my energy into opening my mind and heart to what I need to know on my life journey. Most recently the message I received was, “Spread your wings and follow your true north, not magnetic north.”
This was an interesting synchronicity as I had just changed my upcoming start direction from South to North after some mechanical issues forced me to miss my 30-day window at the South Pole. Rather than wait another year and head south first, I decided I would prepare for another six months and start the trip going north.
Heading to my true north has given me many personal and trip advantages.
- Starting with familiar territory (The North Pole) will help me increase my confidence in my aircraft and improve my skills as I head to the very challenging South Pole. For a list of these challenges, see my earlier post, “Antarctica—The biggest risk of all.”
- Heading north first will allow me to work the bugs out of the aircraft in the new configuration and have three possible Twin Commander authorized service centers outside the United States instead of one, if necessary, prior to the most challenging South Pole leg.
- My team and I will be able to build a number of successful trip events like lectures and interviews along the way, so if for some unexpected reason the South Pole becomes illusive we will have some success to show for our efforts rather than starting with a loss that will follow us through to the end.
- Delaying the trip will allow me to work on attracting additional sponsors to cover expenses. We have over 80 in-kind sponsors at this point, but it is still not enough to pull off a polar expedition of this magnitude. (New sponsors welcome!)
- The additional six months will allow all 66 Iridium Next Satellites to come online, which Aireon will use to provide the first global air traffic surveillance system using a satellite-based, space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. This will allow my flight to be tracked anywhere in the world with a little help from www.FlightAware.com.
- While we have waited to launch, I have been approached by Wolfe Air, an aerial photography company to do a documentary in 8k (digital cinema quality) with aerial photo shoots over Alaska, the Matterhorn in Switzerland, and Chile, on my way to the South Pole and some local work over Southern California. They will install two cameras inside the airplane as well. Wolfe Air’s impressive list of clients includes SpaceX, NASA, Boeing, and the U.S. Air Force.
- The extra time has allowed me get to know Erik Lindbergh, gain his support, and confirm a ride-along with him on the final leg back into Lindbergh Field, now San Diego International Airport.
- I’ve connected with new partners including The Explorers Club and The Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans that will broaden our positive impact on the environment.
- The extra six months will allow me to resolve some minor medical issues and get in even better shape. The delay has allowed me to be present for people close to me going through health issues, which would have been impossible to do and would have been a major mental and emotional distraction for me on the trip.
- And maybe most important, I realize this trip is not on my time but God’s time and to be grateful for every moment of time I’m given.
As it turns out, following my inner compass to my true north has been the best way for me to draw attention to and have impact on the general aviation community, promote STEM, further science using a NASA experiment, showcase aviation safety and technology, set speed and distance records over the poles, connect the North Pole to the South Pole and everyone in between as Citizens of the World, to promote the Zen Pilot brand and the DeLaurentis Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that will fund aviation scholarships for kids following the trip.
So my questions to you are: Are you following your inner compass? Where is your path leading you? Are you open to receive the considerable guidance that is always being sent your way that will bring you into alignment with your personal true north? My wish for you is always a wholehearted, “Yes.”