Message 20.07.2017

Polar Circumnavigation with the PC-12

After more than a century of powered flight, there are very few “flights” left to be achieved in the aviation world. However, on 26 January 2017, Jack Long and his co-captains made aeronautical history when they flew his PC-12 into the record books by completing the requirements for what may be the first polar circumnavigation diploma ever awarded. Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, more commonly known simply as the “FAI”, is the world governing body for air sports. It was founded in 1905 to maintain world records for aeronautical activities. In addition to speed, range, altitude and other performance records for powered aircraft, the FAI issues a certificate called the “Circumnavigator Diploma”, which recognises the significant achievements of pilots making around-the-world flights.

Jack Long is a driven individual who constantly likes to challenge himself. Being the inquisitive type, Jack discovered that the FAI had never issued a Circumnavigator Diploma for a polar flight around the world. With the challenging rules of the FAI, and the complicated planning required to execute them, it is little wonder that no Polar Circumnavigation Diploma had ever been awarded.

Tough Requirements

The FAI defines a polar circumnavigation as follows:

  • The course needs to be at least 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometres)
  • The flight must have been made to a control point north of 75 degrees north latitude and a control point south of 75 degrees south latitude
  • The crossing of the equator from north to south must be separated from the crossing of the equator from south to north by 90 to 180 degrees of longitude
  • The flight must be completed within 365 days in the same airplane

Serious Preparations

Jack and his crew wanted to fly this polar trip with the PC-12 entirely as it was delivered from the factory in 2004, with no special modifications. No ferry tanks or other modifications requiring waivers or special engineering were used. The reason for this approach was two-fold. First, to reduce risk, in that the aircraft was operated completely normally, with no additional uncertified systems that might cause trouble. Second, being a Pilatus enthusiast, Jack wanted to demonstrate just how capable the PC-12 is in its from-the-factory configuration.

Quickly realising that the attempt would require a considerable amount of team work to do safely, Jack assembled a small group of experts to assist with the endeavour: three excellent pilots including Josh Marvil, Giuseppe Caltabiano and Jerry Seckler. Between them, the four pilots had more than 100 years of flying experience. Equally as important, the four men also had the support and commitment of their wives.

In order to accomplish all the FAI requirements for a polar circumnavigator diploma, especially the 75° N and 75° S control points, it made sense for the flight team to divide the trip into two parts. The northern part, to be flown in the northern hemisphere summer season, and the southern part, to be flown in the southern hemisphere summer season. Travelling to Arctic and Antarctic regions is tough enough in good weather, but in the middle of winter it is almost impossible!

The Circumnavigation

After more than a year of planning, Jack and his crew completed the northern part of the route first, beginning the journey in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA, on 11 August, 2016 and ending in Austin, Texas, USA on August 29 – by way of crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Newcastle, England, and crossing the 75 degree north latitude point on the return flight over Greenland.

Jack and his team began the southern part of the trip in Austin on 2 January, 2017 and crossed the Atlantic again, but this time by way of the Azores and Cape Verde to Ghana. From Accra, Ghana, they flew a round-robin flight to complete the easternmost equatorial crossing they needed. They then flew west back across the Atlantic, and then south across the equator again to Brazil and continued flying south over Argentina and Chile, to King George Island. Jack’s aircraft was the first PC-12 ever to land in Antarctica! From here, they made the longest leg of their journey on 17 January, flying 8 hours and 30 minutes to reach the 75 degree south latitude control point and then returning non-stop to King George Island.

Commenting on the flight over the southernmost point of the trip, Jack said: “It’s impossible for me to describe how otherworldly this landscape looked in real time. The photos do not convey the sense we all had of being over a place that was totally different to anything we had seen or experienced before. Absolutely no evidence of human activity, or even life, as far as the eye could see. If Mars were white instead of red, I think it would look very similar to this area.”

Completion of Requirements

The final stretch back home took them north through Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica, making several stops to enjoy the local scenery, people, and cultures with his family and crew. They landed back at their home in Austin on 25 January, after 23 days crossing oceans and continents. But the trip was not officially over until they returned to the starting point, Jackson Hole which they did the next day. At that point, Jack and his crew had completed the requirements for what they hope will receive the very first FAI Polar Circumnavigation Diploma!

From everyone at Pilatus we say “congratulations, Jack and team! Your passion and sense of adventure is truly Pilatus Class.”