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Exhausted Bay Area pilots finish world record flight

Exhausted Bay Area pilots finish world record flight

By Sean Holstege

Tuesday, May 18, 2004 - They're back, but setting a world record took longer and more out of them than they thought.

The World Flight Team of three Bay Area pilots touched down late Sunday night in Teterboro, N.J., where their attempt to become the first to circle the world in a Cessna Citation began 112 hours, 29 minutes earlier.

The trip was to have taken 70 hours. Stronger than expected headwinds, slower than expected customs officials, and in the end, raw fatigue caught up to the aviators. They returned at 11:24 p.m. local time, after flying an estimated 22,600 nautical miles, stopping in 18 countries.

They made unscheduled stops in Russia, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Greenland for fuel and stayed 10 hours in Macau, China and Warsaw, Poland, for some real sleep on hotel beds and some real food.

The dim-sum in Macau made for a welcome break from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and crackers for the three Bay Area record-setters: Matt Brooks, the 52-year-old flight commander from San Francisco, pilot Fred Lohden, 62, of Oakland and San Ramon navigator Tim Weber, 32.

"When they got started and realized they weren't going to do the 70-hour flight, they decided to play it safe," said logistics team leader Darryl Young. "They were having a hard time sleeping when it was their turn, so they were a flying a little ragged, not something you want to do."

Back in San Ramon, that suited Weber's wife Queenya just fine.

"I was a little nervous at the beginning because they're flying around the world in this itty-bitty little plane. But Tim's a very careful pilot. He's careful with everything that he does, so I trusted him not to push it," she said.

Instead, she got to share in some of the adventure, when her husband called on the satellite phone every 12 hours or so.

"He said the Himalayas were unbelievable. They just go on forever and he could make out Mt. Everest," she said. "At one point he called and said he could see Egypt and the Red Sea. He said Greenland looked like one big glacier."

"Over Russia, he said it was all tundra. After the fact, he told me that nobody would have rescued them there and they would have starved," she said, reporting after his return, "I'm extremely happy."

The team is set to return to Hayward Executive Airport sometime late on Tuesday. For now, it remains unclear how many of the 39 specific speed and altitude records they were aiming at were broken. But one record is certain: Weber, Lohden and Brooks have become the first to fly around the world in an aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less.