True story: I was trying on the Lift Aviation extra-large AV-1 KOR Aviation Helmet for my polar flight after the large size wouldn’t fit.
Me: This thing feels tight around my forehead and on the sides. I’m thinking, I must have a really large head.
Sales Guy: I’m sorry; we don’t make a bigger helmet.
Me: Really? Are you sure?
Sales Guy: I’m quite sure.
Have you ever felt super confident, maybe even gotten a little cocky, when you set out on a flight or in my case, a longer journey for the second time? You’re already visualizing the end result and giving yourself an “Atta Boy!” At the very least, you expect the adventure to be easier because this time you are, of course, a lot smarter, having developed a higher level of expertise and proficiency. You’ve made great contacts that have turned into strong working relationships and sponsors. You have organized a support dream team like no other. You have previous successes to fly on, and definitely better equipment (a freaking Gulf Stream Turbine Commander 900 with two predator drone engines and huge 5-bladed custom props!) only to discover the Universe had other plans for you?
When I decided to do a second circumnavigation of the planet, I wanted to do it much bigger and better. My hope was the Flying Thru Life team would reach outside of aviation (which in the grand scheme of life is a very small group) and use the “Citizen of the World” as a billboard for a bigger global purpose. The plane would be the vehicle for a message of Oneness: “One Planet, One People, One Plane.”
After taking on this lofty goal, I decided I would use the concept of “ease and grace” to make all this happen. Ease and grace in my world means the planets will align, the seas will part and I’m going to wrap it all up at the end without breaking a sweat on my brow, no problem. To an outsider this might even appear to be easy. But wait…
The Universe was about to serve me up a big piece of humble pie, which can be hard for an aviator to swallow…
My preparations for a second circumnavigation—this time a polar circumnavigation, which means crossing the North and South poles—have been defined by anything BUT ease and grace. I was expecting it would take me about six months to prepare based on my first circumnavigation along the equator. Right now, we are 20 months in from starting and still dealing with several mechanical issues: repairs to the fuel controllers, environmental upgrades and fine tuning of the avionics, all of which were certified refurbished or brand spanking new. This time the Universe has given us an entirely new set of challenges and lessons that have at times left me and my team scratching our heads saying, “What the heck!? We thought we were almost there!”
Here are some of the things we have learned the second time around:
Don’t let the time drive you. This is all on God’s time.
Quite simply, sometimes the timing is just not right. Other things needed to unfold. A good example of this was while I was attending a presentation at the Aero Club of Southern California after the planned departure date. I was sitting at a table and had the good luck to meet a man who is a philanthropist and does aerial photoshoots for NASA, Boeing, SpaceX and the U.S. Airforce and many others. This meeting ultimately led to confirming a documentary about the trip with aerial footage over Southern California, Switzerland, Alaska and on the outbound leg from Chile to the South Pole. The footage will be shot in 8k (a huge leap above the 4k you find in the theaters today) and has the potential to tell an epic story that will resonate in aviation history for years to come.
Let the Trip Decide the Direction
During a conversation with Brian Terwilliger, the producer of 16 Right and Living in the Age of Airplanes, he gave me some advice as I explained the direction I wanted to take the documentary. He said, “You don’t need to stress about this. You should let the trip decide the direction the documentary will take. Since you likely won’t be going back, get as much footage as you can, and then decide what this film will be about.” This really resonated with me because I’ve felt the mission has been guided from the start and things have been revealed to me each day. Besides, I could spend months playing the “What if” game and not come up with an answer. Clearly, it’s been better to stay open to what the Universe has in store for us.
The Second Trip Promised a Richer, Much Deeper Experience
Have you ever seen a movie the second time around and realized how much you missed? It was as if the first time was just a warm up and you had a much deeper connection the second time around. You found more meaning in the messages and noticed details that enriched your awareness and appreciation for life. This trip is exactly that. And, in addition to staying alive (literally), my hope is this “Citizen of the World: Oneness for Humanity” circumnavigation will be the common thread that connects the North Pole to the South Pole and everyone in between. We couldn’t come up with a more ambitious goal. As I said in my first book, Flying Thru Life, choose an impossibly big dream! We sure did, and it is impacting us in so many ways. On a metaphysical level, if you delve deeper into the concept of Oneness, you will realize this is also a world peace mission because when you see the world as “One” there is no separation between humans.
Let Go of the Element of Time
We have pushed the departure date back twice and soon possibly a third time. While installing the avionics the shop really needed a few more days of trouble shooting. I made a painful decision to pull the plane out of the avionics shop to attend an AOPA Fly-In held in Santa Fe, and then fly it to Tennessee, where it was scheduled to stay for four weeks for the environmental install. The transponder had a bad connection and led to other issues involving the testing of the environmental system. When the environmental shop needed more time and eight weeks had passed, I made another difficult decision to pull the plane out of the environmental shop to make another deadline for the 150 hour engine inspection. As a result of all these delays, as you have probably already guessed, I will be taking the plane back to both locations, which I could have avoided if I wasn’t trying to make deadlines based unrealistic expectations. Time must be respected and the best work happens when people have the time to focus and work together for a better and safer outcome.
We are Human and We are Going to Make Mistakes
In my book, if we were perfect, we wouldn’t need to be here going to Earth School. That said, I still like to strive for the impossible goal of perfection, but it causes a lot of self-imposed stress and, let’s face it, we are human and there is no avoiding that we’re going to make mistakes and occasionally miscalculate—that’s part of the deal when you dream up impossibly big dream—and it’s still so easy to forget. We may think that with experience the initial problems we had will never happen again because we solved them and learned from them—and then it happens again—and we’re brought to our knees. It makes me think God must be a baker because he keeps sending down free second helpings of humble pie. The good news is that aviation history has proven that there are worse things than a second helping of humble pie and that is making the mistake of taking off when you are not prepared and ending up with bigger problems down the road.
The bottom line is that we never stop learning and life never stops throwing us lesson to help us move forward. You will get lessons presented no matter if you are trying to jam your big head into an aviation helmet, holding people to their schedules or working on your paper for your literature class. It’s life and we are going to learn an entirely new set of skills on our quest to evolve.
While I can hope and pray for ease and grace, my friends remind me, “How much fun would it be and what would we learn if everything went just as it was planned? It’s the trials and tribulations that we overcome on the Hero’s Journey and the wise and compassionate understanding of human struggle and suffering that inspires us onward to realize our impossibly big dreams.