Lancair IV Pilot Completes Westbound Circumnavigation

Harrelson awaits news if he officially beat the 50-year-old record.

Bill Harrelson/6qz_pilot
Bill Harrelson arrives in Ontario, California, on the eve of December 15, 2019.Bill Harrelson/6qz_pilot

Lancair IV pilot Bill Harrelson launched on his attempt to beat Max Conrad’s epic westbound round-the-world record with a flight that restarted in Ontario, California, after mechanical difficulties forced his diversion from his first planned segments. Harrelson has landed safely back in Ontario, where the calculations will now take place to determine if he has succeeded, according to the official observers.

Harrelson initially departed from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport in Florida on Friday, December 6, 2019, at 22:02Z (5:02 pm Eastern Standard Time) in his attempt to break the record set by Conrad in 1961. Officially, the record he pursues, endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) is the Speed Around the World, Westbound Class C-1d. Harrelson’s initial destination: Honolulu, Hawai’i. However, on the first leg, he noted one of the cylinders misfired after roughly 5 hours of flight time, and he stopped in Austin, Texas, to diagnose the problem—finding a loose lead wire to that cylinder. The engine ran faithfully for a few more hours, then the problem recurred, and he diverted again to San Luis Obispo. Believing there to be a further connection problem between the ignition and the cylinder, he resolved the issue and restarted the record attempt—after repositioning to Ontario, California—on December 8.

But difficulty with the HF (high frequency) radio on the departure from Ontario caused him to turn back for a fix—and restart the clock again, as he’d be launching from the same airport. After 13 hours and 7 minutes of flying, Harrelson landed at Honolulu (PHNL) for a rest and some flight planning for his route the next day to Jakarta, Indonesia. That leg, departing at 15:00Z and planned for 31 hours, took 32:10 in reality, keeping him on track for the record.

the longest planned leg of the trip
On the longest planned leg of the trip, from Honolulu to Jakarta, Indonesia, which stretched to 32 hours.Bill Harrelson/6qz_pilot

It’s up to 9 days of pretty intense flying, members of his team said in an interview with Flying. His rest stops count against the clock, so he must balance fatigue and safety with pursuing the goal relentlessly for the prescribed days of flying. Following the leg to Jakarta, he posted another long leg, on to Cape Town, South Africa, in 28:41—a little faster than the planned 29:30 enroute. His next leg, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, elapsed in 31:42 minutes. Harrelson fought strong headwinds on the final leg into Ontario on December 15, but stayed low and posted a relatively swift 16:10. Total time to spare (unofficially): 19 hours and 28 minutes faster than the existing record.

Harrelson chose the Lancair IV for its speed and efficiency, according to his Instagram account, and he flies behind a Continental IO-500 engine and a new Electroair electronic ignition system. The system replaces the stock magnetos, and the swap lowered the fuel burn by 1 to 1.1. gallon-per-hour—a significant amount when working with the kinds of distances he expected to cover on the route. The tanks hold 361 gallons, of which nearly every drop is usable, allowing for the incredibly long segments for a solo pilot. He has already flown the airplane, N6ZQ, across the Pacific Ocean 7 times, and over the North and South poles.