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Tag: Polar Circumnavigation (page 1 of 2)

Crossing the North Pole three times

Yesterday as I prepared for my first ever North Pole crossing things were going pretty smoothly. Almost too smoothly. I’m used to last minute surprises especially before taking off. But then I remembered I’ve had over 18 months to prepare for this leg. I thought maybe the Universe was finally going to throw me a bone. The taxi showed up on time the morning of departure, the airport manager let him on the ramp—which never happens, the new coordinates for my flight worked in the Flight Management System, I had no leaking fuel from the plane after fueling the night before, the tires held air, the emergency oxygen was near full, the nitrogen charge was still within limits…it was almost hard to believe. The Citizen of the World was in all her glory, fierce and it was a fantastic thing to see.

The good fortune continued as the airport allowed me to take off early without charging me, the tower operator showed up early and got me into the air traffic control system on the ground, and the engines fired right up as they always do. All avionics systems came online immediately, and I thought “Isn’t life wonderful!” I started down the runway like a bat out of hell with enough fuel to get me back to Alaska in the United States after being away for eight very long months. I still had six weeks to go to be back in San Diego but I was getting closer.

As I climbed above the solid cloud layer that extended all the way to Alaska things were going well. I had a great climb rate even with the extra fuel. I flew over Svalbard, Norway, which had been rejecting my departure requests for over a month. I thought skipping one stop reduced my risk and it was time to get going while the North Pole was a nice warm -43 Celsius compared to the -60C I experience near the South Pole.

About two hours out of Kiruna, Sweden, I was beyond VHF radio comms range and my luck started to change. My HF radio was not picking up anything and I was at a wrong-way altitude. My satellite phone calls to Bodo Oceanic control over the most remote part of the planet didn’t work either. I got through to Oceanic control on my satellite phone I just couldn’t hear a word they were saying, and I assumed they couldn’t hear me either. Considering I had eight hours of open ocean flying to do this was going to be a major problem.

One-hundred-fifty miles from the True North Pole things really started to happen. My two flight management systems/GPS units started to fall offline since they didn’t have a satellite signal. This was odd since this didn’t happen until about 75 miles from the South Pole. I figured there would be more coverage over the North Pole since it was a more traveled route. My autopilot would still hold in heading mode, so I made the adjustment and continued on my way using my iPad. “No problem,” I thought as this felt like old times over the South Pole!

About 25 miles from the True North Pole things got really scary. One of my Attitude Heading & Reference Systems went offline. I remember thinking, “this is why I have two ADAHRS systems.”  I flipped the switch and nothing. With the loss of the units I also lost the autopilot. The airplane jerked to one side and I began to attempt to take it offline at 30,000 feet. The yoke cutoff switch chirped but didn’t stop the turn. I was fighting the autopilot at this point and pushed the off button on the autopilot unit itself, but it still didn’t work. At this point, I felt like the Universe was conspiring against me and had a thought that this was how those 737 Max planes went down. I reached over to the left and pulled the autopilot circuit breaker with the yellow cap I had marked so it was easy to find in a jam. That was my last hope short of shutting the power completely off over the North Pole which sounded, in a word, “terrifying.” This emergency was making no sense to me. But just as I pulled the breaker the resistance faded away and I felt a slight sigh of relief.

Crossing the Magnetic South Pole I got a brief look at the snow, ice and water the ground through the clouds.

To put things into perspective, I’m five hours of flight time from land, 30,000 feet up over a cloud layer at a wrong-way altitude doing almost 400 mph over the North Pole with no comms. I was using only my iPad to navigate, hand flying in RVSM airspace (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum) that requires an autopilot to maintain precise flight level with no autopilot and by myself. My first non-Zen words were unprintable in a family publication. So much for an easy flight across the True North Pole, the Magnetic North Pole and the North Pole of Inaccessibility!

What I did have was a visual horizon for the time being, two working Honeywell TPE 331-10T engines, two kick-ass MT 5 bladed scimitar nickel tipped composite props, and about three hours of extra fuel which could potentially just extend my misery as I flew in circles around the North Pole while my followers wondered why my track on the InReach explorer was so erratic. I had a directional gyro and knew it would hold my course for a time but as I turned from the North Pole, to the Magnetic North Pole, and finally to the North Pole of Inaccessibility, I got confused and knew it couldn’t hold a course forever.

As if to tease or taunt me, the flight management systems would periodically come online but then fall offline a short time later. This felt like cosmic torture as I had conflicting heading information from multiple points on my panel. My magnetic compass said one thing, my two flight management systems/GPS units had a different heading, my L3 backup system said something else, my directional gyro offered another heading, and my radar display showed yet another heading. “Which do I believe?” I thought. “Will I run out of fuel or fly in circles over the North Pole?”

As I was trying to hold the altitude constant in an airspace that was separated by 500 feet from opposing traffic I start shutting down and restarting the failed systems. The ADAHRS tried to realign in motion but couldn’t do its two-minute alignment. Eventually I realized the flight management systems appeared to have the aircraft flying backwards along the track for a time, then one would right and then go backwards. I was totally confused and trying to make sense out of the conflicting information.

Now I was seriously scared. I was very much alone, and the laws of physics didn’t seem to apply. There were no reference points in the cloud layer below me as far as the eye could see and a bunch of red Xs across my screen. I couldn’t help but wonder what a mess I had gotten myself into. I thought they would be talking about this for a long time. The naysayers were going to have a field day.

I took a minute to take a few deep “Zen” breaths in the midst of the shit storm that was unfolding around me. I took a personal inventory and realized I was still in the air, was straight and level, and wasn’t out of options yet. This was fast becoming a test of my faith.

As I moved between the True North Pole, the Magnetic North Pole, and the North Pole of Inaccessibility I was mostly hand-flying and occasionally overpowering the autopilot when it didn’t want to turn.

As I continued to hand fly, I realized my autopilot could maintain altitude and it seemed to fly on a heading once I set it but needed to be restarted to program a new heading. Next I realized that my Apple iPad seemed to be as accurate as it had been over the South Pole as well. How odd that a $1,000 iPad was working when $100,000 of avionics seemed totally confused. Flying like this was of course totally illegal but I had no choice. I was doing what my instructors had told me to do, which was “just fly the plane.” I was lucky to have a visual horizon above the clouds for as far as the eye could see.

I expected the failed systems to come back online in about 30 minutes but to my surprise everything stayed offline until I reached the coast of Alaska some five hours later. I literally watched as one system failed and then would come back online with the information making no sense. It was extremely stressful, and I was searching for the lesson in all of this. When the systems came back online at the coast of Alaska, they acted like the bad school kid who misbehaves when the teacher is out of the room and then reverts to becoming the perfect angel when the teacher returns. I realized that the issue was the lack of a satellite signal and not that the systems weren’t working.

Eventually as I got close to the coast of Alaska, I realized that the weather was not the broken clouds that were forecast at Prudhoe Bay/Dead Horse. Instead, I had 300-foot ceilings. Being as that I had been flying for so long and had 3.5 hours of fuel left, I decided to extend my flight for another hour-and-a-half to land in Fairbanks where I was hoping to meet my film crew the following day. As a side note, on my first call to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the director told me he could arrest me, impound my airplane and severely fine me if I landed in Prudhoe Bay where they didn’t have an agent.  When I told him my first priority was my life and that weather over vast distances was unpredictable as was aircraft equipment, he told me if I had planned better I wouldn’t be having such a problem. I hung up feeling a bit defeated. About two hours later I got a call back from the director and he said I could land in Prudhoe Bay for an overnight stay but would have to call Customs when I landed, and be in Fairbanks the next day.

It is hard to put into words how I felt when I landed in Fairbanks, Alaska. We had a mechanic and restaurant owner at the airport come over and snap a few pictures. Myself and the film crew that had just arrived by car were offered a delicious pizza lunch by the Wendy, the owner. As we ate, I stared at the plane with a blank expression on my face, exhausted, and in total disbelief of what had just transpired. I felt shock, pride, and relief all at the same time, and just wanted to sleep for a day. My focus was so narrow it was impossible to comprehend what I had just pulled off and the impact it would have on our mission—and I hoped—on the world. Calls and messages would come in for the next 48 hours congratulating me and my team. Most of them had no idea what I had been through, but I was so touched by those that reached out in the most-kind way.

One example that summed up the Citizen of the World’s challenges during the Polar Circumnavigation was from Eddie Gould, one of my handlers from General Aviation Support Egypt.

“Adventures like yours do inspire and create so much more than what you have personally achieved. Having this adventure during one of the world’s most horrific periods must rank high above many of the worthy exploits undertaken by [other] pilots.

I guess we, on the ground, have felt invested in your quest in a way that others would not. Your successes in the air are also ours. I have a massive smile, and I know Ahmed does too, when we get something approved, or a plan works out or even when you say  ‘this hotel is fantastic,’ the work we do in the background can be enjoyable, satisfying and at times…frustrating…like when you lose comms or someone doesn’t answer a phone in an office 7,000 miles away. But your adventures create the memories for us too…and this adventure is yours and our crowning glory…you took on everything the planet could throw at you, faced dangers in every corner of the globe and even had to change everything you knew about to become a Spanish recluse and then a Viking hermit!

I hope you make the book at least half as exciting as the reality was…and by the way…the aircraft was amazing and beautiful :-).”

I’m so happy to share this adventure with all of you and my hope is that it will in some way inspire you to go into the world and be a positive force in the world. To shine as brightly as you can and to allow your dreams to become your reality.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Escaping from Spain in a GA aircraft during a pandemic: Pulling off the impossible

As pilots, we know that at some point our skills diminish and it becomes very dangerous not to fly. In the past, I would fly every week to keep my skill set as sharp as possible. This was a promise I made to myself when I first started flying; my intention was to keep myself alive. If I waited any longer than a week, I would start to feel nervous. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s now been almost eight weeks since I have even started the engines on the Citizen of the World, much less lifted off. Honestly, I’m scared.

After being quarantined in Spain for almost two months, getting out with my general aviation airplane would prove to be a very complicated endeavor, because the country was locked down so tightly and immersed in fear. With their older population, Spain had been the hardest-hit nation in Europe. My general sense was that people were terrified that COVID-19 was going to get every last one of them. I was getting word that the Spanish government was not going to open the country to tourism until September  at the absolute earliest. Considering that Spain normally collected $200 billion in tourist revenue every year, you could see how scared the govenment/people really were. If I waited until September, it would be too late for me to cross over the North Pole safely; temps would be too low for the Citizen of the World and fuel gelling could take both engines offline.

My travel plans to Switzerland were no longer realistic; it is also a very conservative country and would require a special visa which would take months to get approved, even if I could somehow collect all the required documents in the middle of a pandemic. This was a bummer because we had planned a photo assignment  over the Matterhorn in the Alps with my Swiss friend Andre Mueller. Switzerland also had some great mechanics that I had trusted twice before to work on my last airplane during an equatorial circumnavigation and a European summer trip.

The next departure possibility was via a route to England, but there was no ground transportation and nowhere to stay once I arrived. Plus, I would definitely need some help on the ground so this plan could be potentially trading good for bad. At the last minute the British government enacted a mandatory two-week self-quarantine for everyone entering the country, scrapping the idea anyway.

The final option was repositioning to Malmo, Sweden. The country had been practicing herd immunity and the numbers were closely in line with neighboring countries that had been using strict quarantines to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The death curve had flattened, and I calculated a .000095% risk of death given the population size. Compared to the 50% risk I experienced over the South Pole, that seemed like odds I would take all day long. In Sweden I would be able to fly my plane around the country as much as I wanted, get some maintenance for Citizen, and wait out the pandemic. Word was that Sweden would be open to the outside world (and my camera crew) on the June 15.

To make this seemingly impossible task happen required a number of steps and several very generous, persistent, and inspired people helping me in both Sweden and Spain.

Step 1: Get to the airport in Spain

First, I needed to get to the aircraft in Barcelona, Spain, which was 372 miles away from my “Zen Villa” in Sitges. A few emails to the U.S. Embassy showed me I could travel as long as I was leaving the country.

The exception that most often applies to the U.S. citizens that we are assisting is: “to return to once’s place of residence.” The Ministry of Interior has specified that third-country citizens returning to their country of habitual residence are exempted from the movement restrictions.

Determining which activities fall under the above exceptions or any subsequent expanded exceptions is entirely up to the Spanish authorities. We do not have the authority to grant permission to travel within Spain or grant waivers of Spanish laws.

As a backup, I found out Spanish citizens could travel with written permission from their employers, so I had the DeLaurentis Foundation issue a letter showing I was a pilot and an employee supporting the expedition.

The U.S. embassy also directed me to the front cover of my passport, which I thought sounded rather official and would help me justify my movements.

As luck would have it, there were no checkpoints along the way and I drove to the airport without issue as my Spanish police officer friend Meritxell followed in another car.

Step 2: Get to the airplane

With the help of a Spanish friend and fellowpolar circumnavigator Michel Gordillo, I was able to email the Assistant Airport Manager at Cuatro Vientos. I sent him an email pleading my case and asking for access. He said it was possible as long as I was escorted on the field by someone with access. When I was unable to find anyone willing to escort me to my plane after days of trying, I decided to show up and see if I could do it on my own. I talked to a helpful man in the flight plan office and he spoke to police security. I mentioned I had an email from the airport manager, and, to my delight, security just waved me through.

Step 3: Get permission to fly out of Spain

To encourage the Spanish to let me go on my way, I found out that Dr. Dimitri Deheyn, our lead scientist for the atmospheric plastics pollution experiment, was trying to determine if COVID-19 could be transferred on the plastic particles that we were already testing for in the atmosphere. He provided a letter that showed my departure flight was a critical opportunity to test the air over Madrid and all the way out of the country for the virus.

With the help of Michel Gordillo, who called the Spanish Police, the Flight Plan Office, Customs and Immigration, I was told that I would be allowed to leave the country and that if I submitted a proper flight plan it would be accepted by Eurocontrol. From their perspective, it was one less American to worry about and less possible coronavirus risk. (Not to mention Michel would stop calling them every 30 minutes with more questions until they let me out of the country).

Step 4: Get permission to fly into Sweden

Johan Wiklund, an Airbus A320 Flight Commander at SAS Scandinavian Airlines who flew an antique British Gypsy Moth biplane from Sweden to South Africa, was also instrumental. He helped put Eddie Gold and Ahmed Hassan Mohamed — my flight handlers from General Aviation Support Egypt (G.A.S.E.)— in touch with an FBO in Sweden called Aviator Airport Services, which then got me permission to fly into Sweden. Johan also connected me with a mechanic who could repair the Gulfstream Turbo Commander 900’s ferry tanks for my leg over the North Pole.

Step 5:  Come up with a flight plan Eurocontrol will accept

This is where the genius of Ahmed Hassan Mohamed from G.A.S.E. helped save the day. Normally, I would use the autoroute function on Rocket Route to find my way through the complicated airspaces of Europe. On this 4-hour, 1,200-nm flight I needed to go through Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany on my path into Sweden. After a couple of hours, he came back with the route you see above. It had over 40 waypoints and airways, but it worked, and he filed it for me.

Step 6: Don’t get quarantined on arrival in Sweden

With the rules changing daily, preventing Sweden from putting me into a two-week quarantine once I arrived was a concern. Michel had suggested a plan, and with the help of my friend MeritxelI I was able to get two tests for the COVID-19 virus before I departed Barcelona. Both tests involved a drive to Barcelona, 36 kilometers to the north. The first test involved taking swabs of my mouth and sinuses that would tell if I currently had the coronavirus. The second test required a sample of my blood and would indicate if I had already had the virus. A positive result here would greatly improve my chances of moving around Sweden and other countries uninterrupted. In three days I got the results, which were both negative. Having some documentation that that I didn’t have the virus as of a certain date would be helpful in making my case that quarantine was not required.

Step 7: Last-minute servicing

The Citizen of the World is indeed a high-performance, high-maintenance aircraft, and upon examination I determined that she needed the emergency oxygen for breathing and the nitrogen for the landing gear charged. The mechanics from Aircraft Total Service were able to help with this, and I was ready to go.

We all know that no great plan ever goes off without a hitch — so as luck would have it, the police came rolling up to do a ramp check on my aircraft as I was getting readying for engine startup. They asked where I was intending to go. Michel Gordillo, the former Spanish airline pilot, was again working behind the scenes, talking with them and letting the officers know whom he had spoken with, the fact that nothing had changed since I had been granted permission to leave a week earlier, and the reasons why they should let me go. After they asked some questions and checked my registration number on the aircraft, they left, wishing me luck on my trip.

The actual flight had my knees knocking on departure, as I would be going from 0 to 308 knots during the flight. Life was about to accelerate to the speed of life once again.

With no other planes in the sky, I was granted permission to depart without delay. The actual flight was busy — as I got reacquainted with the many complex systems on the Citizen, I was uploading databases and relaxing into what I have always believed aviation to be…one of the deepest meditations available to a soul.

Landing in Sweden, I expected to be met by security, a handler, and medical personnel that would take my temperature and assess my condition. However, there was only a security officer who gave me a ride to the terminal, where I walked directly through to the taxi stand and was headed to my hotel in minutes.

I felt a great sense of relief as I arrived at my hotel in Malmo. It felt like I had just been sprung from prison using a well-executed plan and a team of professionals. The following day I met Johan, his wife, his kids, and his tower operator friend Axel. We were eating carrot cake Johan’s daughter made in their kitchen later that day, talking about our aviation adventures past, present, and future — and I couldn’t help but think about how aviation brought us together on my mission of One Planet, One People, One Plane.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Navigating uncertainty: Between the South Pole and coronavirus

The world finds itself in a zone of confusion—a time and a place where the future is unknown—while fear and uncertainly surround Citizens of the World during the coronavirus pandemic. We will likely all be challenged in one way or another, and our next steps could help define our existence.

One of the most challenging parts of my 18-hour, 4,300 nautical mile nonstop flight from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the South Pole and back was navigating the 50 nautical mile “Zone of Confusion” airspace just before and after the South Pole where GPS doesn’t work. The effect this particular polar zone has on our modern avionics is formidable because on any side of the South Pole, you’re facing north. Based on my experience there, I have come to call this “Zone of Confusion” the “Time in Between” which not only wreaks havoc on magnetic compasses, but also on the mind.

I suspected I would lose navigation over the South Pole after I learned of similar situations from other pilots who had flown in the area. I was testing an Avidyne flight management system that had never been used over the South Pole, so I needed a backup plan. To ensure my safety, I went back to basics and installed an old-school directional gyro in Citizen of the World to allow me to dead reckon using a metal ball spinning at 15,000 rpm. My backup plans included taking a line of position on the sun—assuming it wasn’t cloudy and that I could see the sun as I crossed the pole and then reverse it. I also installed waypoints on my Avidyne before and after the pole. To create triple redundancy, I configured an iPad to display a magnetic reference as opposed to my more sophisticated systems that were set to a “true” reference.

When I was 50 miles out from the South Pole and my GPS units started to drop offline and then recover several times before failing completely, I realized I was in the “Zone of Confusion” and the “Time in Between.” “Global” ADS-B tracking had failed 1000 nm earlier so I was clearly on my own, isolated in what could be perceived as a hostile world. Honestly, I was scared.

I was entering a space and time that no one had flown in before with this same configuration. The avionics technology I was using was untested over the South Pole. My highly modified 37-year-old Gulfstream Turbo Commander 900 with six extra fuel tanks was over its max gross weight. And biofuels were being used over the South Pole for the first time ever.

During the “Time in Between,” when I reverted to old school navigation techniques, I thought back on my conversations with other circumnavigators, aviation engineers, and mechanics, and there was no one could definitively tell me what to expect and how to handle it. I knew I would enter an unknown dimension when I started this mission and considered the risk of taking on so many “first-time” modifications, but I had run the scenario in my head and on simulators many times. I had written and followed a checklist as any good pilot would. Still, this did not give me 100 percent assurance. I hate to say it, but for a second or two I wondered if all the doubters might be right as I second guessed myself. Had I set myself up for a perfect storm of confused avionics, a highly modified old airplane, and unknown biofuel response at 32,000 feet and -60 Celsius over the Pole?

While I felt panic at times, thinking I was close to powerless to change what was happening to me, fortunately all my spiritual training came flying back into my mind when I needed it the most, reminding me to focus on what I could control and to trust the Universe to take care of everything else. I knew the avionics were the best in the industry, and since the system was intermittently responding in what seemed like a logical pattern, I could tell it was doing its best to navigate. But when it failed and recovered for a third time I took a deep breath and decided to enjoy the journey and the learning. I had faith that eventually this uncertainty would lift and I would be back in a realm that was more familiar to me. I was also grateful I had installed an “old school” directional gyro in the avionics panel because that’s what I relied on until my system began working again a short time later.

When I passed over the South Pole and was turning around, I felt this incredible sense of joy and accomplishment. To acknowledge the magnitude of what I had just experienced—the risks, the obstacles, the learning, the first-time-in-history record with biofuels, I flew two victory laps around the South Pole—one for the planet and one for the people. In the photo below, on the flight management system display, you can see the route of Citizen exiting that second lap and heading back to Ushuaia.

Reflecting back on that time, I can see a parallel to what we are all now experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic.

We are in a time where no one really knows what will happen next. Our experts and the media contradict each other several times a day. Pessimists are predicting doom and gloom. While this pandemic is tragic with people all around the world suffering, I’d like to offer another perspective: What if our planet and people are actually living in a “Zone of Confusion” and the Universe is giving us “Time in Between,” as an opportunity to recalibrate and reconnect with what is most important to us and to the planet while experts in science and technology work on new solutions to treat and eradicate the virus?

We are all growing and evolving at a very rapid pace, which is consistent with the natural order of things. Ultimately, we will learn many great lessons from this coronavirus experience, including the importance of treating our planet and each other better, having more patience, overcoming fears, redefining our role in the world, valuing time in silence, living interdependently with others, and facing mortality with respect and compassion. On a global scale we will come to learn the value of peace on our planet and the importance of cooperation versus competition between countries that is required to achieve this peace, like that which has always existed at the North and South Poles.

Robert and a police officer just after landing at Ushuaia, Argentina following his record-breaking flight over the South Pole on December 17, 2019

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Finding Joy: The tale of a restless soul

I’ve visited almost 20 countries in the last three months, talking with countless people about what it means to be a “Citizen of the World” and how we can find peace within us and share it with those around us. I’ve met with Zulu rangers, triathletes, musicians, artists, pilots, dancers, government officials, dog sled mushers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, scientists and many more.

I even met a monk who locked himself away in a cave deep inside the Gheralta Mountains for 70 years for the purpose of evolving so he could move along to the next realm in peace.

Surprisingly, three months into this six-month pole-to-pole circumnavigation, the happiest people I’ve observed so far are those I met in northern Ethiopia’s rural environment. Removed from all the culture, technology, and consumer activity that we enjoy in our first-world life, it was hard to believe what I was experiencing. To give you an idea of how removed they are from a metropolitan area, it was not an easy place to get to. I flew Citizen of the World to Addis Ababa, caught a regional airline to the Tigray region and from there took a two-hour car ride into the remote northern Gheralta Mountains. It was a full day of travel far away from what I would call “civilization.” I felt transported back into another time.

What caught my eye as I traveled into northern Ethiopia was that people were happy and smiling. Some I would even describe as joyful. Most memorable was seeing three little boys, all about the same size, looking to be about six or seven, lined up next to each other on the side of the road, with big smiles on their sweet faces and their thumbs out pretending to hitch a ride. They had their routine down and not a cell phone to be seen on any of them.

Over the next few days I came to learn that these boys, their families and their community had very few material possessions. Their houses and their land were well manicured. It was obvious they took pride in their ownership. But interestingly, their houses had no furniture—at least, the way I think of furniture. They slept on straw mats on the dirt floor. They ate sitting on the floor. If the weather was bad, they would bring their animals inside to protect them from the weather or more often, from hyenas prowling for an easy target.

The land around them was beautiful with the Gheralta Mountains singing out grandeur, God and nature. The mountains were so high they reached up and touched the sky. It was the sort of beauty that made you want to stop and watch a sunset and get up early, even when you were dead tired, to watch the sun rise. The people were nourished by the land. The river was a direct source of drinking water. You could see young boys herding their goats, cows, and donkeys that fed on vegetation that grew naturally. There were no delivery trucks bringing in bags of feed or bottled water. One boy sitting in a tree nearby called out, “These are my goats! I take care of them and then I go to school in the afternoon.” His smile was so big and his delight and pride in his responsibility were hard to miss.

Children were playing and singing and waving in small groups everywhere we passed. They weren’t worried about what happened in the past or what was going to happen in the future; they were rock solid present in the moment.

I could see these people were living in their joy, not searching for happiness. In the “civilized world,” many of us equate the pursuit of happiness with new possessions: New clothes, a new car, a new job, a new house, etc. After a short time, these things don’t make us happy anymore and we need to replace them with newer things. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is with us from the day we are born but it’s difficult to access because we build walls and create distractions that prevent us from feeling this joy.

When I arrived at Korkor Lodge, where we stayed for a week while filming our documentary, I sat with the owner, Luigi, and talked with him about the area. I felt like I was in the presence of a very wise old soul. He said, “Robert, maybe these people are onto something. They may be more evolved than us. Have our modern lives really made us happier or just created more problems for us?”

“I’m not sure they have made us happier,” I said.

My mind wandered back to my life before I took off on this mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity.” All our responsibilities. All our things. All the products we consume. All the silly things we do to be better than the next person. I thought about how important our clothes, cameras, cars, dishes, cell phones, sunglasses, shoes, and other items. are to us and wondered, “Why?”

At that point, I brought myself back to the moment. I could see I was beginning to go down the rabbit hole and I said to Luigi, “We must have something that is equally as valuable as the simple joys of these ‘evolved’ people—at least modern medicine is something we can be proud of. What about our ability to use radiation and lasers on precise points on our bodies to prevent “dis-ease,” improve our vision, perform surgery, etc.? Surely that counts!”

Luigi had an answer to this as well. “The locals live to be very old and when they get sick, they go and drink water from the well.”

When he said that, I couldn’t help but wonder if all the issues that modern medicine fixed were the ones that we created from our lifestyles filled with stress, chemicals, ambition, worry, and plastic everything? I clearly had some deeper thinking to do about what it means to be a “Citizen in the World” for the world.

During a two-hour walk through the country I was most impressed by a little girl we met who carved emblems into small stones. In addition to the stones, she showed us a piece of paper with her original design work for creating the artwork. I thought it might be a school project until I realized she was setting up shop when she saw us coming—a budding entrepreneur for sure.

We continued our stroll and entered a 2,000-year-old church about a quarter mile away. When we exited the sacred building, the little girl had relocated to another spot we would pass. She was all smiles when we met her eyes a second time. As a gesture of good will, my friend Susan gave her some local currency. The little girl reached down into her basket and gave Susan the biggest stone carving she had made. Susan asked if she could have one more for a friend. The little girl smiled joyfully and handed her the next biggest stone. Susan ended our time with the little girl by telling her how beautiful she was and how wonderful her stones were. I could feel their souls bonding as they both smiled ear to ear at each other. We later learned that the amount of money Susan gave this girl was more than the girl’s father made in a week.

I felt the little girl knew more about business than most of the people I went to business school with … and maybe even more about the “school of life” that was currently in session for me. She and Susan showed me there are no boundaries when generosity, gratitude and appreciation are present.

After a few days at the Korkor Lodge I couldn’t help but think that we in first-world countries have totally missed this thing called joy as we live our very efficient twenty-first century lives. Joy is available to all of us just as it was for the little girl with her stones, the little boy with his goats, as well as the three boys pretending to hitch a ride. We don’t need to wait to be happy until we get that promotion. We don’t need to wait until we have that dream house or car. We don’t have to wait until we lose those 10 extra pounds to decide that we are whole, complete, and a “success.”

Maybe we are enough just as we are. Maybe we don’t have to keep postponing our joy. Maybe interactions with these earthbound angels are meant to teach us that we already have what we need to be happy. Maybe slowing down and taking the time to notice— with gratitude and appreciation—what is already available to us will help us remove these self-created limitations so we can live a fully joyful life.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

The new me: Zen Moments flying over the South Pole

Change, welcome or unwelcome, is going on all the time. Our challenge and our opportunity is to be aware of that change and use it for the greatest good. After flying my 1983 Turbo Commander for 18 hours non-stop from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the South Pole and back over some of the most beautiful, but unforgiving terrain on the planet–not knowing how my airplane would perform with ten fuel tanks and flying biofuels for the first time over the Pole at -60 degrees Celsius — I discovered that it’s impossible not have change happen inside of you. This leg of my polar circumnavigation was a defining moment that started change in motion that will have a lifelong impact on me. While it’s hard to know what the exact impact will be, it has gotten me thinking, processing and wondering how this experience will affect my present and future life and the future of the planet.

Flying over the South Pole

The impossibly big dream recognized

The first thing I thought when the big 16-ply tires of Citizen of the World touched down on terra firma was, “Oh my God! I did it! I’m alive! I made it!” I learned I am capable of going after, preparing for, and accomplishing something that was bigger than I ever thought I was capable of achieving. I really had gone after the impossibly big dream, which I had dreamed about, written about, and spoken about in my first book, Flying Thru Life.

As I prepared to leave Ushuaia headed southbound that Monday morning, December 16, 2019, I kept my self-talk as positive as I could, but underneath the bravado, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was coming back. I had assessed my chances for survival at 50 percent–not just making it to the South Pole, but a 50 percent chance of being alive after the next 24 hours.

Given all the unknowns and first-time ‘it’s been done’ modifications I had made on the aircraft, I knew I had never embarked on such a difficult journey with a higher probability of absolute failure. I thought about all the people who were counting on me whom I had talked with or heard from in the previous hours and days. Even the local hotel owner, who had been so kind to me, was on my mind. Before I left my hotel room, I packed up my things so if I didn’t make it back, they could be returned to my family without causing the owner much difficulty — he hadn’t asked me to come into his place of business and create extra work for him. This was my doing, my dream — and now, my reality and possibly, my demise.

It wasn’t a dream

Fortunately, my dream became a reality. But, I wondered at first. For the month that followed the successful completion of the South Pole leg I was still floating in the clouds. My feet were not planted firmly on the ground. I really did not believe I had done it. How could I have done it? If you applied a rational thought process, including the laws of physics, to taking a thirty seven year-old airplane that was designed to fly for seven hours and increasing its non-stop flight hours to 18 hours, it was really beyond reason and probability that it would stay in the air. After landing, I walked around in a daze for days actually afraid to wake up in the morning and found myself imagining that I was belted into a bed in a psychiatric hospital or doing meaningless work somewhere realizing I had been living a life getting by day to day having no impact on the world. Sometimes, when I would tell people what I was planning or what I had just done, they would just get a blank look on their faces, as if what I said wasn’t even within their perception of reality. Our interactions reminded me of the story of the natives in the New World who couldn’t see the early explorers off the coast arriving because it was beyond their comprehension. Like the natives, when I shared what I was doing, people would go on as if I had never said anything.

Falling in love with Citizen of the World

I know that during this trip I fell in love with my airplane, Citizen of the World. I think I know what Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland, in the movie Cast Away felt like when he personified that soccer ball into “Wilson,” his best friend, after being alone on an island for so long. Citizen became more than an aircraft to me on that Polar flight.

Truth be told, I was always a little afraid of the power of this aircraft. With 2300 horsepower, a 52-foot wingspan and an enormous roar from engines that are running at 100-percent torque, this machine is a force. My previous airplane, Spirit of San Diego, was an elegant, long-bodied aircraft, but Citizen is all muscle—a brute force like a charging bull that you’re not going to be able to stop. On this flight, Citizen showed me what an old but solid airplane with major modifications is still capable of doing. I put the aircraft under so much strain–and it continued to meet my demands and delivered in such form–that I was left speechless at times. Imagine a plane sitting almost fully loaded with fuel for a South Pole Flight and not springing a leak, not blowing out the struts or bending the wing spar! I remember as I sat waiting for takeoff clearance at Ushuaia, I promised Citizen that I would never demand so much from her again.

Once I took off, the airplane climbed in a narrow channel and I performed a 180-degree turn so heavy-laden with fuel that even I doubted it could be done. Citizen climbed at almost 1800-feet-per-second like it was a walk in the park all the way up to 28,000 feet in 58 minutes. Unbelievable! This is a testament to the brilliance of engineer Fred Gatz, who designed the wing for Gulfstream and did the feasibility study.

Stronger than I could have imagined

In the process of completing this flight, I realized I was so much stronger than I had imagined. The months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes leading up to my departure were the most challenging of my life. The universe accelerated personal issues leading up to my departure. Instead of getting three problems every week they started rolling in at a rate of three per day. It was like the universe was trying to test me with enormous mental and emotional weights and see if I was strong enough — if I was worthy of being an aviation Polar circumnavigator.

On this journey, I built a level of trust in myself that I never had before. I was up for over 30 hours before I completed the mission and returned to bed. I started the flight at 2:30 in the afternoon when I normally would be winding down my day. I had almost called off departure due to the rejected flight plan, winds in the wrong direction for takeoff, permits that we were told we would not need, but actually did need, and because I didn’t want to return to a departure airport in the dark when I was exhausted.

I wondered at take-off and all throughout the flight, “How many times will I be tested on this trip? How strong must I be? What are you trying to prepare me for?” I’m still finding answers, but I know I see the world differently now. A few things I’ve noticed are that I am incredibly grateful for every breath, I walk with a little more confidence, and I believe that God kept me around for a reason bigger than me.

The plane was finally ready

During the two years leading up to departure it seemed like something would break on every flight. New systems that we installed continued to create emergency situations during test flights. All these modifications not working as promised and needed to be repaired, replaced or fine-tuned, which drained my bank account and my patience, delayed my departure three times over two years and made me lose faith in the aircraft. My friends heard me complaining about the enormous cost of this project even with the generous support of my 90-plus sponsors providing help with services, parts and their vast technical expertise. Preparing a plane to perform at a level three times what it was designed to do is a fantastic undertaking—and one I began doubting myself for doing. Miraculously, we finally did reach the point where I knew it could do a flight this big and ambitious. The airplane has worked very reliably during all legs of the flight to date and worked flawlessly on the South Pole leg with the exception of a single fuel gauge that went offline for just about five minutes.

People of the world

One of the most meaningful, enjoyable, and “in-joyable” learning elements of the trip so far is that I have gained enormous respect for all the people I’m meeting around the world. I have seen citizens in the most remote parts of the planet show compassion and respect for my efforts, for my struggle and for what seemed like an impossible mission at times. Prior to the South Pole departure, a group of four young people in Ushuaia became my friends and in the eleventh hour helped me get my permit from Chile. As I flew nine hours into the deepest part of the South Pole and was feeling so alone, I made contact with Cory, an air traffic controller at the South Pole and his colleagues, who complimented me for flying the experiments for NASA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for the betterment of the planet. It may not seem like a lot, but it meant the world to me that my new friends wished me luck on the nine-hour flight back to Ushuaia. That encouragement reminded me that there’s still a little seven-year-old boy inside me making paper airplanes, and like all of humanity, wanting love and encouragement, a dream to grow into, and family and friends to share the journey with.

Ushuaia Team who helped me get my permit from Chile at the last minute

Change in me

One last thing, and maybe the most important, and to paraphrase social justice leader Mahatma Gandhi — I have realized that the change that is needed in the world must start with each of us. It begins in our hearts and minds and is reflected in the world around us. If we can each find inner peace within ourselves wherever we are, we can then share that peace with others wherever they are.

We are also tasked with taking peaceful action and not waiting for others to do our work for us.  It’s up to each of us to do something positive for our communities, for humanity and the planet. As the International Children’s Choir from nations all around the world has been singing every year since I was a child, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

Just before take-off from Ushuaia, Argentina to the South Pole

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

World peace vacation or expedition?

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” –Anonymous

This expedition is amazing and to some it could seem like a vacation because I’m living my impossibly big dream and experiencing so much joy during my polar circumnavigation in Citizen of the World.

However, for me, it is a working mission. Whether I’m wearing my immersion suit in case of a water evacuation, dressed in my flight suit with sponsor logos during public events, or dressed in casual street clothes as I stopover in cities, I have never worked harder than I am on this trip—or in the past two years preparing for and overcoming so many obstacles to be able to do this polar circumnavigation.

I fly solo for most legs, requiring intense concentration and multitasking in a highly modified airplane that involves extensive upkeep. On stopovers to 26 countries I serve as an informal ambassador for the United States and worldwide sponsors while meeting many people speaking many different languages with many different customs as we share the things that are important to all of us as “Citizens of the World.”

That’s not to say I’m not making time when I’m on the ground to build in downtime. I do. I have to—for stress management and for recovery with the schedule we keep. But there is an important distinction. The Flying Thru Life mission is all about living life with grace, ease, and joy. These qualities are experienced as a result of purpose-driven work that comes with a lot of sweat equity along the way. Through my aircraft Citizen of the World, I and my team are on a mission for peace and global sustainability for the planet. If you consider that description a vacation, then everyone should experience that kind of vacation. Our primary goal is connecting the two places on the planet where peace has always existed—the North and South poles—and everyone in between.

To do this we have a business plan, goals and objectives, 10 team members, over 90 sponsors, and thousands of followers asking to be kept informed of our plans and results.

While on this expedition, I’m writing another book about this experience titled Citizen of the World: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. It’s work for me because after each leg I sit down at my computer for several hours while things are still fresh in my mind and break the experience down into moment-by-moment detail. It’s difficult to see how things connect and what this expedition means without reflecting on or pondering in hindsight about the relationships between events, but it still makes sense to get the details down on paper. This will be my third book and I’m 100+ pages into it already. Writing a book is a huge commitment and involves challenges and personal growth since life often gets in the way. For me, writing is cathartic and effortful. My style is very intense and raw, involving the conversations that are going on in my head and often not spoken. It takes work to get them onto paper.

We are also filming a world-class documentary about the expedition titled Citizen of the World: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond that is intended to complement the book and, Gods willing, to be sold to Netflix. The Flying Thru Life team has been so fortunate to attract director and cinematographer Jeremy LaZelle and production coordinator Kristin Gates to our project. Jeremy has produced and directed for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet. Kristin is a world-class adventurer and accomplished speaker with achievements including being the first woman to hike the Brooks Range in the absolute cold of the Alaskan winter.

Our documentary involves flying all over the world in a highly modified aircraft; meeting all different types of people; and talking to them about what peace looks and feels like to them, what it means to be a “Citizen of the World,” and what advice they have for the rest of the world on how to live a meaningful life. The documentary has an aviation theme with the aircraft Citizen of the World setting world records along the way that involve taking airplane and pilot to their absolute limits.

The goal here is to show the world that we are more similar than different, and we are connected in Oneness: One Planet, One People, One Plane. We had hoped to film five terabytes of film for the documentary in six months and just six weeks into a six-month trip we are already at four terabytes. The team has been working hard and I’m so proud of the quality of their “art.”

While traveling, I am still involved via internet and voice calls in my adventure publishing company’s executive and creative decisions. We are about to release our first children’s adventure book titled The Little Plane That Could. In many ways this can be more difficult than writing a book for adults. Getting the voice correct for a children’s audience requires thinking differently and simplifying complex situations and emotions into words and images a 6-year-old can connect to. We have been working with our illustrator and are on our fourth edit with publication expected in the first quarter of 2020.

Let’s not forget the Citizen also carries some pretty cool science on board this expedition that involves communication with University of California – Santa Barbara scientists and other organizations. Did you know NASA is flying with us? We have a wafer-scale spacecraft mounted inside the airplane. It’s a proof-of-concept that opens the heavens for future space travel. It seems the best way to explore the universe in the future isn’t going to be with astronauts flown in capsules on top of heavy rocket motors using thousands of gallons of rocket fuel—but with circuit boards that will be blasted out into space using electromagnetic cannons at a rate of one every 15 minutes. It’s our quest for connecting with the possibility of life on other planets and making the unknown in outer space known that can pull us together as a planet of humans seeking peace and goodwill.

The Citizen of the World bridges the gap between earth and space with our technology as well. We use satellite communication for weather updates, phone calls, texting, and music as well as multiple GPS systems and ADS-B In and Out.

On this expedition I’m also collecting microfiber/plastic particles for the Dimitri Deheyn Lab at Scripps Institute of Oceanography led by scientist Dr. Dimitri Deheyn. I apply and reapply 3M sticky tape at four points on the airplane—two points on the nose and one on each wing tip. The samples need to be carefully placed before each flight, meticulously removed, stored, logged in a spreadsheet, and placed in storage inside the airplane at the completion of each leg. We are testing to see if microfibers exist in the air all the way around the planet including over the poles. They have been found in all major bodies of water on the planet as well as on the ground all over the world. Connecting them all to the atmosphere would be a major research outcome and another reason for everyone on the planet to pull together to sustain our home here on earth.

These experiments also support our science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) goal on this expedition. This January, while en route I will begin a virtual teaching project with Reach the World, a global network organization that transforms the energy of travelers into a learning resource for K-12 classrooms. I will appear via Skype, presenting the message of Citizen of the World for the World in classrooms around the United States to reinforce Reach the World’s mission to “help elementary and secondary school students and teachers to develop the knowledge, attitudes, values and thinking skills needed for responsible citizenship in a complex, culturally diverse and rapidly changing world.” This will involve answering questions for the kids and keeping them informed about what our team is doing and the challenges and obstacles that must be overcome to make a mission like this work.

We quickly learned when we began filming our documentary that it is the next generation that will bear the responsibility for working together to solve the planet’s major challenges like climate change, pollution, nuclear proliferation, and world peace. This is a huge job, but I’m inspired by the enthusiasm in everyone I’ve talked with. Some conversations have left me with tears of joy running down my face and given me hope for a future that we all dream of—where peace, love, and happiness guide our choices, our actions, and our lives.

Finally, there is the issue of keeping the Citizen of the World flying safely at peak performance. This 26-year-old Turbine Commander 900 aircraft is a wonder of modern technology having just completed a never-done-before 18-hour solo flight over the South Pole. Modifications to this 1983 aircraft have taken more than three years and brought other issues to the surface as we have asked more and more of it.

This airplane is my obsession and learning its systems on a level deeper than I ever imagined possible is beyond anything I’ve ever undertaken. Keeping an eagle eye on Citizen—inspecting every outer surface and part with every takeoff and landing, double- and triple-checking every instrument and unit inside the airplane, and repairing when necessary along the route—is a full-time job in itself. The twin-engine Citizen of the World is many times more complicated than an unpressurized single-engine piston aircraft with minimal avionics, and our smaller budget means that I oversee and manage all communication with service and parts replacement mechanics in our destination cities.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenges that an effort like this takes on the ground. Countries outside the United States are not friendly toward general aviation. It’s not uncommon to fly into an international airport that has no other GA aircraft. The handlers and ground control team see smaller aircraft as a distraction. Support facilities often charge the same fees to small aircraft as they do for commercial Boeing 737s. If you saw the invoices I get, you’d see fees including $200 for a full-sized bus to move you 100 feet from your taxied stop to the terminal, $50 for chocks (a wedge or block placed against a wheel or rounded object, to prevent it from moving) that I didn’t need, or a $300 airway fee.

At the Ushuaia, Argentina, airport, I waited three hours to make it through customs, get my bags to the airplane, and file a flight plan. When I complained, I was told they were “too busy” to deal with me. I was handed a bill for $2,800 and told if I didn’t pay with cash I could not leave. Previously, I had been quoted $600 for two locations and the handler said the difference was “extra fees.” When I reminded them that we were a not-for-profit organization on a world peace mission, there was no financial consideration and I was once again told my aircraft would be held until I paid.

To sum it up, no vacation or expedition is without challenges. Fortunately, with time we forget about many of the obstacles and focus on what brings us back to the joy that has always been inside of us. At our core each of us is an explorer working on our own personal journey. And while some of that journey may appear to be a vacation to those watching through the window or on their computer screen, to others it is purposeful work lived with a joyful heart. From the moment we take our first step we are always trying to expand our horizons. Psychologists define childhood play as serious business for growth and development. I think that’s true throughout our lives. We seek connection with others and our planet. We seek to nurture our humanity in all that we do. Whether you call that a vacation, an expedition, or work, I’m all in. I hope you are too.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Antarctica or bust!

The recent tragic disappearance of a Chilean (U.S. built) Lockheed C–130 with 38 souls onboard as it flew approximately 600 nautical miles over the water from Chile’s southern tip of Punta Arenas to Antarctica’s northern tip of King George Island, has me concerned, to say the least. My departure date to the South Pole—the southernmost tip of Antarctica and the Earth, from Ushuaia, Argentina—which is also the southernmost tip of South America, is less than three weeks out. This passage is the longest, hardest, and most terrifying leg of my polar circumnavigation and now, with this Chilean incident, it’s even more frightening.

If a military aircraft with four turboprop engines and two experienced Antarctic pilots in a type of aircraft with millions of combined miles worldwide can go down on a short 600-mile flight, then what is the outlook for me flying solo more than 4,200 nautical miles for 18 hours in an airplane manufactured in 1983 with just two turboprop engines and a pilot with zero Antarctic flying experience?

Needless to say, this compelled me to share some of the things that are flying through my mind during these remaining days and long, dark hours of the night before I embark on the biggest risk and greatest fear of my life, so far.

Mechanics

Mechanically the Citizen of the World is working well—very well, actually. Engines, five-bladed props, environmental and ferry fuel systems are all A-OK. We had some hiccups with each of these systems after their installation which required fine-tuning to achieve maximum performance. In the end, the manufacturers stood behind me, which inspired  me to dive deeper into their operations, limits, and maintenance resulting in a safer trip and greater confidence in my equipment, which will matter most when I’m sitting on Runway 07 in Ushuaia, tires bulging over max gross with the two Honeywell TPE 331-10T Predator Drone engines growling at 100 percent torque, pulling Citizen of the World toward her destiny as I release the brakes.

I’ve found once Citizen rockets into the air, this airplane just goes, and goes, and goes—higher and faster as it burns off fuel. The 2,300 horsepower produced by the powerplants are in a word awesome! Getting to altitude is slow, but when I test flew Citizen at 80 percent of ferry fuel, she climbed to 30,000 feet in just 46 minutes. That was the moment I knew Citizen would be able to leave the ground heavier than ever before, with 10 tanks of fuel.

Avionics

With respect to avionics, I’ve got everything I need through flight management systems—fuel computers, touch screens, synthetic vision, battery backup, infrared, radar, active traffic, terrain avoidance, satellite communications, music, weather, ADS-B In and Out. Today, we restored the satellite signal going to the No. 1 Avidyne flight management system, which is very similar to your average GPS unit (but more capable) and is coupled to two other systems including the L3Harris NGT 900 which provides ADS-B Out, and the EX 600 with position information and supports terrain, traffic, and weather displays.

I flew the aircraft across the Andes Mountains this week to Santiago, Chile, sidestepping off the route one more time to have Abiatronic Ltd., an authorized Avidyne repair center owned and operated by Ricardo Medina, save the day. I now have a fully functional panel for my South Pole flight.

Range

My Shadin Fuel Flow computer shows Citizen appears to be getting about 4.8 nautical miles per gallon range at altitude with 60 percent torque. If I slow the airplane down a bit with just 50 percent torque, it maintains altitude with the lower induced drag, and its efficiency increases to 5.3 nautical miles per gallon, which gives me a tremendous margin of safety. To confirm my calculations I had Robert Morgan, former senior research-and-development engineer at Scaled Composites review my test data. Using a lower fuel load than I will carry, he came up with an estimate that I will have a 27-percent extra margin of fuel.

Peace of mind/sleep

Insomnia has plagued me for the two years preceding this flight. I believe it is due to the enormous stress a polar circumnavigation creates in one’s life. The fear comes from doing something in a class of airplane that has never been done before. I’ve added new systems including engines, props, environmental system, and avionics to a 36-year-old aircraft and I’m asking it to give me three times the range that it was designed for. I’m banking on performance that can’t be confirmed until the airplane is fully outfitted. I made promises to over 90 sponsors that believe in me and Citizen. And, surprisingly I have slept through the night twice in the last week, which tells me things are on track and the planets are aligning. This is what it means to be in alignment!

Physical health

Physical preparations have definitely been a consideration on this trip. I had health issues that popped up during the two years preceding the trip that had to be dealt with so I could remain focused and present in the cockpit. Issues included a painful tennis elbow (I don’t play tennis), ingrown toenails, a dislocated shoulder, a vitamin allergy, and a cracked tooth that required emergency surgery and a titanium implant just prior to my departure. Getting my body into alignment with this mission has taken effort as well, but I felt good and healthy just before I set out on this flight. I believe that our bodies manifest some of our personal issues and clearing these things out was absolutely crucial so that I could maintain focus during the times that it is absolutely necessary.

The Gods

Since the beginning of planning this epic trip, we hit every barrier that we could—and hard. It was as if the Universe kept telling us “No, not yet.” I felt like I achieved a 7th degree black belt in being told “No,” while getting the cosmic two-by-four smacked across my forehead. The Flying Thru Life Team persisted when others said it was hopeless. We overcame obstacles of routing, equipment failure, physical injury, loss of funding, and supporters who were not really supporters. I learned to deal with rejection better, which helped me clarify my vision and draw in rock-solid people who believe in our mission and in me. We built a foundation stronger than I thought possible and we continue to rise above anything that has potentially stood in our way. Having the intention of “Flying Thru Life with Grace and Ease” is no longer just a tagline and affirmation; it’s become a moment-to-moment prayer of gratitude.

Intuition

Unlike the circumnavigation along the equator in 2015 in an airplane I named Spirit of San Diego, I’ve had many people whose wisdom and experience I respect come forward and tell me that they had a very good feeling about this trip. These Earth angels’ intuition, premonitions, prayers, and feelings have led them to trust that this trip is going to be a safe and successful one for me, which instills strength and confidence in me, especially when my mind starts to wander into turbulent emotional territory.

What you have read above may still not, in your mind (and sometimes my own) make this trip safe or risk-free, but it does include some of the conversations that have been in my head for the past two years and raging in my thoughts for the past two days. Some of you may find it more closely resembles the ramblings of a madman intent on taking chances. In my mind, the outcome of this trip has already been contractually determined with other souls long before I came into this world and now it is just a matter of allowing it to happen as it was intended. I will continue to try and anticipate every possible problem or outcome, be as diligent and detailed as possible while keeping in mind that every challenge is a learning opportunity—a “Zen Moment” that further prepares me for the positive impact I hope to have on humanity, and that humanity will have on me.

Join us on the adventure at www.PoleToPoleFlight.com.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

The power of courage: Finding and using It

“Courage is being scared to death … and saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

With my departure from the continental United States on a six-month odyssey looming less than a week away, I am being pulled away from all my creature comforts including friends, family, home, car, and beautiful San Diego, while we explore the most remote parts of the planet. The National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of State are referring to Citizen of the World’s  global journey as a “Polar Expedition.” I’m reminded of a thought I had while in pitch darkness flying over the middle of Pacific back in 2015. I was heading toward American Samoa, an island that that was fogged in and surrounded by mountains, and I anticipated landing at their nontowered airport. I had just closed my eyes, and then I turned my head left toward the pilot window. When I opened my eyes  it was just as dark as with my eyes closed. At that moment, I realized I was very much alone in the middle of the Pacific with no support. That little voice in my head said “What are you doing? You could be at home in San Diego on your comfortable sofa watching TV with your girlfriend!”

The fact that I’m doing another circumnavigation with an even greater land mass and riskier weather has occasionally had me asking myself the same question when I wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.

And I’m not the only one questioning why I’m doing this.

When some people learn that I’ll be flying an extensively modified 35-year-old Turbine Commander 900 aircraft named Citizen of the World—with dozens of upgrades including six extra fuel tanks and more plumbing than your house—a few too many people refer to my plane as a “Frankenstein” (which, by the way, is a very nasty way to refer to such a fine, fine lady).

Humor aside, this joking doesn’t add to my level of comfort despite the fact that I have had the very best people working on the airplane with hundreds of combined years of experience. They have made mistakes along the way—and so have I. So far, since we’re all still here, we’ve obviously safely recovered from the mistakes, but there’s always an element of fear of the unknown and what might happen next riding shotgun in my mind.

So, then, where do we find the courage to do things that are challenging … (and honestly scare the p*ss out of us) as we navigate the ever-present fear on our individual journeys?

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” – Albert Schweitzer

I think courage comes from many sources. One is from the people who believe in us—the ones who support us with their time, resources, words, and faith. Because of their belief in us, we tell ourselves, “If they believe in me, I can believe in myself as well.” They see our abilities from a different and higher perspective.

For example, I was at the National Business Aviation Association convention a few weeks ago talking to the underwriter from Great American Insurance Group, which has agreed to insure my trip. I told the underwriter that I had chosen to add hull damage coverage to my policy even though most pilots on these kinds of long trips don’t carry it because of the high cost. When I explained that we had postponed three times to mitigate additional risk uncovered by more thorough preparation, I could see in the agent’s face that we had another believer. In my mind, our preparations were 100 percent complete when our 20,000-hour airline pilot and board member told me we were prepared and had done what we could—given the nature of the flight.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” – Steve Jobs

Another source of courage is from our own intuition and that of others. On my first trip around the planet East to West I had people tell me it wouldn’t go well. One person wrote on Facebook, “The Pacific is littered with planes just like yours.” My ex-girlfriend told me about dreams she had that I died a terrible death alone in the Pacific. My father said, “You are just going to get yourself killed.”

That was a hard trip, especially when my only engine failed at 14,000 feet over the ocean and 19 miles from the closest airport. As other frightening challenges arose, I felt like I was running out of my nine lives and had literally pounded way too much on death’s door. (See my book, Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within for details.)

In preparation for this trip I’ve had so many very intuitive people I respect tell me it will be a safe trip and much easier in many ways, that all the problems I’ve had to date happened in advance of the trip so I could have a safe trip outside the U.S. When I pray—and I pray a lot—what I get back is that I will be safe, and things will go well. While I can’t know the future for certain, I can set the stage and choose to focus on the encouragement of people whose guidance I trust while doing everything I can to mindfully manage the negative thoughts and challenging situations that arise.

Courage also comes from experience. In my book, Zen Pilot, I talked about fear being my constant companion and co-pilot for some 26,000 nautical miles. Recalling that I had been tested to my limits and I was able to hold my course despite adversity, frustration, overwhelming fear, and financial challenges that would break most people reminds me I can do it again. And if I can do it, that courage can remind all of us in the most difficult of times that we have the resources to handle whatever the Universe throws our way. This is also known as “Faith”—faith in ourselves, faith in our equipment and yes, I will say it because it takes courage—faith in God.

On a spiritual level, I believe that courage comes from within—deep within us—maybe even from our souls. On the other side of the fear, which takes courage to pass though, is the greatest freedom we will ever feel. Getting to that freedom starts with these three courageous actions: 1) soul searching, 2) allowing ourselves to be broken down to our most fundamental selves, and 3) that critical component of persistence.

The use of persistence to activate courage is sometimes the most difficult of all qualities to muster up and to sustain. When I am all alone and there is no one there to help me at the moment when I need it most, it’s hard not to think I’m being tested. I feel exposed and vulnerable and I perceive myself as unprotected. What keeps me going, the reason I persist and can find my courage and act on it, is that I believe we are all here fulfilling a greater plan that has been laid down for us well in advance of our physical birth. We are simply fulfilling the contracts we have agreed to for this life.

And finally, embracing a mission greater than yourself inspires confidence, courage, and action. When the voices of self-doubt are screaming at me, when I feel like God is not hearing me, when I lose my focus, forget everything I have just shared with you, when I have lost my faith in God and myself, I reach into my pocket and touch my courage coin for a reminder of why I am doing this: One Planet, One People, One Plane: Peace for Humanity.

“You don’t concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting done.” – Chuck Yeager

Robert DeLaurentis will be flying from the South Pole to the North Pole in his aircraft Citizen of the World, and is scheduled to depart on November 23, 2019 (Pole Gods willing), from Gillespie Field in San Diego. He will be taking 200 courage coins that he plans to distribute along the way and upon his return to inspire future generations to achieve their impossibly big dreams through the power of courageous action.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Why should the ‘Citizen of the World’ polar circumnavigation matter to you?

Our Flying Thru Life company and community mission of “One Planet One People One Plane” is for the benefit of every person on the planet, including you. Our primary goal is to show a divided world that we are all connected. Just as our flight will connect the two places on the planet where peace actually exists—the South Pole and the North Pole—our vision and intention are to connect all people in between through a shared adventure that includes deeper peace and Oneness.

One of our Flying Thru Life core beliefs is that humans are already united in so many ways that we often forget about in our busy, fragmented lives. One of our commitments is to be a living example of all these connections as “citizens of the world” and explore new ways to expand and deepen these relationships. Here are a few examples of the ways we are already connected:

Technology

With the proliferation of new technology our vast world is fast becoming one large community regardless of the desire of some to maintain separation. Things like the internet, where we exchange emails across the planet almost instantly; our global economy, where products from different countries line our shelves; or the planetary communication system with 66 Iridium NEXT satellites that now encircles our planet and is a key component of the Citizen of the World polar circumnavigation flight.

Transportation

People are now moving between states and countries with less expense, greater ease, and increased dedication to reducing carbon emissions. Airline travel between countries has become more efficient and available to the masses. Inexpensive airfares can get you from the U.S. to almost any other point on the planet. Movement through the European Union no longer requires a passport. While there may be nationalistic political efforts to keep people from entering certain countries, there is an equal effort on the part of global citizens to keep travel open between borders.

The Environment

The issues that affect “our” world are now global, including greenhouse gases, pollution, disease, and nuclear proliferation. It is clear that the resolution of these issues will require a collective effort and that no single player or country can do it all alone. We must all come together as members of planet Earth in our vision for the future of our planet and for our role as humans and stewards of the earth and all of its living beings.

Civilization

As the interracial connections between humans become more common with global communities, we will ultimately see the evolution of people into one race. This global citizen will be a blending of all races. Like it or not, agree with it or not, we will ultimately start to look more and more alike, reflecting the common spirit of humanity that already exists within each of us.

Origin

While there are some who question how our planet and the cosmos began, science continues to discover facts that explain how the universe originated from the Big Bang Theory. You and I and every other human being are made from the exact same cosmic stuff. “Those people” on the other side of the planet are just as much your brothers and sisters as the people in your family—just ask anyone who has discovered unknown relatives of different races through DNA testing and ancestry sites.

After visiting 120 countries prior to my 2015 circumnavigation, and another 23 countries and territories during the flight, it became clear to me that there are more similarities than differences among people. Before I set out on this journey, I defined people by their color, race, political affiliation, and socioeconomic class. But this limited perspective ignored the uniting spiritual element that is at our core and connects us all—things like our desire for health, happiness, the safety of ourselves and our families, our desire to dream and explore this beautiful planet, our home.

This polar circumnavigation of Citizen of the World has been created to highlight all the above elements and qualities, desires, and dreams; it is the common thread that joins humanity together. We are dedicated to connecting the South Pole to the North Pole and everyone in between as “citizens of the world” on a mission of One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity. We invite you to join us at www.PoleToPoleFlight.com and share the journey in whatever way you feel compelled.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Citizen of the World: The Bridge between Aviation and Space

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

The flight of the “Citizen of the World,” now scheduled for June 2019, is a flight that will change aviation and quite possibly space travel. Yes, this is a bold statement and an impossibly big dream that is on the brink of coming true with the help of a brilliant team of scientists, engineers, and aviation geniuses who inspire us all to go beyond what we think is possible.

People often ask me why I’m taking on a project of this magnitude and risk. Again and again, I come back to this truth: It’s the most ambitious thing you can do with an aircraft unless you have rocket motors to get you out of the atmosphere. In many ways I’m finding with “Citizen of the World” that we are passing the boundary of the earth’s atmosphere into outer space through the technology onboard.

First and foremost, the satellite communicator in my DeLorme InReach Mini from satphonestore.com allows me to use the Iridium satellite constellation to text, email, and post to social media; get weather updates; and reach out for help if I ever need it—all this without needing cell service! Satellite voice communication is also used as a backup should my onboard and backup UHV, VHF, and HF comms develop “issues.” (But we all know that will never happen, right?!)

Second, the flight will be tracked by a new constellation of 67 Aireon satellites. A supplement and follow-on to the Iridium network, this will be the first time that global tracking is available and the first time that an aircraft will be continuously tracked from the South Pole to the North Pole. Twenty-four million subscribers and followers will be watching with the help of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out information. This is an exciting and important contribution to the world because it will help route airplanes around the planet more efficiently while saving time, reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, and reducing the cost of travel.

Third, “Citizen of the World” will be carrying a proof-of-concept Wafer Craft Spaceship designed by UCSB scientists contracted by NASA. As reported in the Flying Thru Life blog:

The Wafer Scale spacecraft experiment will consist of several small (~ 10 cm diam x 1 cm thick) “spacecraft” that are prototypes for the NASA Starlight program. Each spacecraft will be self-contained except for need a small amount of power (~ 1 watt each). All the spacecraft will be a box that is about 30x30x30 cm. Each spacecraft will have a GPS, optical communications devices to interact with each other, ultra-low power radio (optional), inertial navigation, temperature and optical imaging sensors. No dangerous or poisonous materials will be on-board. In addition to power we will need a GPS cable (RG-174 coax) to a small GPS antenna that can be mounted near a window. Data will be recorded onboard and could optionally be transmitted via a small satellite communication interface back to the US.

The “Citizen of the World” will be transmitting information continuously back to the scientists in the United States. This same experiment will next fly on the Amazon Blue Origin rocket and then eventually on a NASA mission into space in 2059!

Fourth and lastly (for now), speaking of NASA missions, “Citizen of the World” may have an astronaut on board for a leg of the flight. That’s all I can say at this time, but stay tuned and keep dreaming your impossibly big dreams—when the Greeks envisioned “space sailors,” astronauts were a twinkle in the sky, and today they sail around our planet and land on the moon.

In many ways, the boundary between two worlds has become blurred with “Citizen of the World.” Not only are its wings turned toward the sky; this aircraft will get as close to space as possible without actually going there, thanks to the Water Craft spaceship onboard and the array of satellite technology that is being activated.

Call me crazy, but it’s not only me that sees this unique connection on “Citizen of the World’s” pole-to-pole flight and mission, “Oneness for Humanity.” Aviation Weekly & Space Technology editor William Garvey wrote a commentary published online on Sept. 21, and in print in their Oct. 1 to 14 issue:

The aircraft will participate in the Wafer Scale spacecraft experiment using extremely small “spacecraft” prototypes for NASA’s Starlight program, which is exploring using large scale directed energy to propel small spacecraft that could enable humanity’s first interstellar missions.

The intersection of aviation and aerospace engineering and human creativity opens a stream of energy that can change history and expand what’s possible for humanity when we are willing to go beyond what we think is possible.

“Houston, ‘Citizen of the World’ is ready!”

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently flying his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.
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