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Pilots seek to fly around the world in 70 hours

Pilots seek to fly around the world in 70 hours

 By Linda Davis

CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Three Bay Area pilots are winging around the globe, hoping to break world records by flying 22,860 nautical miles over 39 countries in 70 hours -- in a Cessna 501 Citation jet.

Tim Weber, a 32-year-old NASA aviation analyst from San Ramon; Matt Brooks, 52, of San Francisco; and Fred Lohden, 62, of Oakland, departed Wednesday from Teterboro, N.J., to circle the globe traveling east to west. On Wednesday, they reached as far as Utah before veering north to Juneau and Nome, Alaska, over parts of Russia and on to Osaka, Japan, on Thursday.

The pilots have refueling stops in Thailand, India, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Poland, England, Iceland and Canada. They will pass over other exotic locales -- Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Vietnam and Cyprus -- and are expected to return to New Jersey sometime Saturday.

For the men, it's the trip of a lifetime and one that required $2.6 million in retrofitting to the twin-engine corporate-type jet owned by Brooks.

The pilots have 90 years of combined flying experience and will alternate flying the aircraft in two- to five-hour shifts. Weber has been flying since he was 20 and was a commercial pilot for Delta Airlines. Brooks is an attorney and chief executive officer of a real estate investment firm and has been flying since he was 13. Lohden has been a pilot since 1966 as a Navy officer and captain for United Airlines. He now works for NASA.

To accomplish the feat, three aviation companies donated the special equipment for the round-the-world flight. Garrett Aviation provided an Eagle II package, which gives the jet extra power and fuel capacity. The plane carries a high-performance engine from Williams International, and Houston-based Universal Weather and Aviation did the flight planning.

Garrett spokeswoman Eileen Boyce said the 26-year-old plane "wouldn't think of making the journey" without the modifications. It is trying to set a record in its lightweight class -- 12,500 pounds -- for speed, altitude and the sheer magnitude of the trip.

Jim Miranda, a 30-year general aviation pilot from Pleasanton, said the east-to-west flight is interesting because there are prevailing headwinds in that direction, which is challenging.

"They would do weather and wind forecasting and choose a route that's agreeable," Miranda said. "But the trip will be exhausting. All the time changes throw the body's rhythm off."

Boyce said the logistics of landing in so many different countries is daunting, and required extensive preparation.

"They are all international airports with different curfews, decibel levels for flying," and topography, Boyce said.

To check the progress of their flight, visit www.ardenflight.com.