Port Alfred couple flies around the world in self-built aircraft

LOCAL couple Sylvia and Brian Foster have just returned from a 160-day trip around the world in an aeroplane they themselves built.

HOME SWEET HOME: Port Alfred couple Sylvia and Brian Foster returned home on Monday after a 160-day trip around the world in a “kit aircraft”, a Vans RV10, they built themselves. The couple were eagerly greeted by friends and loved ones at Port Alfred private hangars Picture: LOUISE CARTER

The aircraft, a Vans RV-10, is an American-designed four place single piston engine “kit plane”. It features a 260 horse power Lycoming engine and is capable of a cruise speed in excess of 160 knots (200km/h) and has a range in excess of 800 nautical miles (14 80km).

Sylvia and Brian left Port Alfred off the 43 Air School runway on May 31 and took on the journey that would last them 160 days. During the trip they flew a total of 52 flights and total flying time of 259 hours, with the shortest flight lasting only 12 minutes, from Kilimanjaro to Arusha, and the longest of over 14 hours from Merced, California to Honolulu.

Sylvia said among the highlights was the approach to Nuuk airport in Greenland. “After flying over the ice cap, then past glaciers, and icebergs, up a fjord was unforgettable. [And] walking back from the pub in Nuuk at midnight and it was still light,” said Sylvia.

The plan to fly around the world started when the couple wanted to buy a Mooney aeroplane in the USA and fly it back to Port Alfred. Sylvia said it got them thinking that they might as well make a trip of it and go all the way around.

“We then moved on from buying a second-hand Mooney to building our own plane,” she said. Sylvia said the Vans RV10 took two years to be built and that the kit was modified to double the fuel capacity and state of the art avionics were installed.

“Brian worked from 8am to 6pm seven days a week for very long stretches, then we would have unplanned breaks waiting for parts to come from America.  I went in most days to help, but did not put in the same long hours.  We had support from all our friends at the Albany Airpark.  While building the plane we planned our trip,” she said.

Sylvia said the epic journey was not entirely smooth sailing and a particular low point was at Cassidy International Airport, Christmas Island, in Kiribati where they were held for several hours because of problems with “paperwork”.  Ultimately Brian and Sylvia were not allowed to leave the island for six days until a 10 000 Australian dollar “fine” was paid.

“The hotel ran out of most basics so it was fish and rice for several days,” she said.

With the highs and the lows, Sylvia said there were several unexpected moments added to their trip. The night before a scheduled flight from Seychelles to Mozambique at 10pm, despite flights agents’ reassurance, they learned that no Avgas was available.

“They had no fuel for us.  We then had change plans and wait for flight permits to fly to Madagascar instead,” she said. Sylvia said the couple had a great experience flying into Auckland International, a very busy airport, and Air Traffic Control asked an airbus on the taxiway to “let the little guy go first”.

“The trip has been as much about the people we have met as the places we have seen.  The flying community is on the whole a very friendly one and we have met several people in USA, New Zealand, Greenland, Australia and UK who we are sure will be friends for life,” she said.

For the couple the best views included Iceland, Sicily, Greenland, the Grand Canyon, Red Rocks of Sedona, Washington DC, Atherton tablelands, the Maldives and Queensland, Australia.

Despite being happy to be home, the couple are a bit sad that the adventure has come to an end. They encourage other interested people to do it. Before embarking on a trip like this, Sylvia advised to talk to lots of fellow aviators, carry enormous amounts of US dollars cash with you and be prepared to spend hours looking at weather forecasts.

“You will spend lots of money, your hair will turn grey but do it anyway,” she said.

Leave a Reply