From Down Under to the world over


A visit to Australian teenager Ryan Campbell’s website on Friday morning revealed a large Google map dominating the top of the page.

The map was notable for the sheer enormity of the blue expanse extending in all directions from its center — a tiny red icon in the shape of an airplane. Campbell’s airplane. Alone. In the center of the Pacific.

The live map indicated that the single-engine plane was traveling at 182 mph as it made its way from Christmas Island, Kiribati, to Hilo.

And inside that plane was a 19-year-old young man, trying to become the youngest solo person to ever fly a single-engine aircraft around the globe.

Closing out the 8.5-hour flight, he landed at Hilo International Airport on Friday afternoon and explained that a strong bout of foul weather had slowed his progress and caused him to feel a few moments of trepidation.

“It was the worst flight I’ve ever had in my life,” he said simply. “I was expecting it to be bad, I mean it’s a leg that’s known for bad weather, but I still didn’t like it.”

Campbell said it can be unnerving to be alone on a long flight over water.

Often, inexperienced pilots will let their minds play tricks on them.

They’ll imagine rough engine sounds and other nonexistent issues as they head out further into the ocean.

“It’s called being in the overwater rough,” he said with a laugh. “Some people will hear noises, and some will even ditch their planes in the water. That’s something that’s not on my to-do list.”

The youngest circumnavigation so far was performed by 21-year-old American Jack Wiegand, who completed his trip around the Earth on June 29.

But Campbell aims to keep his cool and to snag Wiegand’s title upon his scheduled return to Australia in September.

Campbell left his home in Wollongong, Australia, on Sunday, piloting a 2009 Cirrus SR22 single-engine airplane with a 160-gallon tank that can fly for about 16 hours before refueling.

He made stops on Norfolk Island, Australia, and Pago Pago, American Samoa, before moving on to Christmas Island.

Campbell plans to continue eastward after leaving Hilo, heading for Van Nuys, Calif.

“It’s the scariest leg of the trip,” he said.

The flight takes about 14 hours, and with a tank that can only handle an average of about 16 hours of sustained flight, that’s cutting it a bit close, he said.

“It’s all about weather and fuel,” he said of long-distance flights in small, single-engine planes. “It’s really not that difficult. More people would do it, but it takes time, planning … and money.”

From California, he’ll head out across the U.S., stopping in Oshkosh, Wisc., for the nation’s largest annual airshow, before heading on to Europe and Asia and then returning to Australia.

He hopes to have completed his journey by Sept. 7 and be certified by Guinness World Records and the World Air Sports Federation as the youngest pilot to ever make such a trip.

In addition to his pursuit of the record, Campbell is also hoping to serve as an example for young people around the world.

“I hope my around the world flight is not only the catalyst for a large number of young people to become involved in aviation but that it brings inspiration and determination to many more,” he wrote in his blog. “Life is simply what you make it and self belief is the greatest gift.”

To help spread his message, Campbell has partnered with World Youth International to offer the Dare 2 Dream Scholarship Fund — a total of $50,000 to be given to 10 young Australians.

A total of 19 other people from around the world have completed the eastward circumnavigation, and 11 have taken the westward route, according to the World Air Sports Federation. Among them are three Australians and 13 Americans.

Australian Kenneth Evers completed an eastward navigation on July 8, 2010, and has served as a mentor for Campbell as he prepped for the journey.

In fact, Evers came through Hilo on his 2010 journey, and worked with Air Service Hawaii employee Shanna Sato to prepare for his arrival.

So it was only fitting that she was on hand to welcome Campbell with a lei on Friday, and to help him through the customs process and to get provisions, equipment and other preparations taken care of before his trip to California.

“We’ve had three of these around the world flights come through here,” Sato said. “It’s a popular place to come when people are trying to get to California next.”

Campbell said he’s looking forward to taking a dip in the ocean, getting some sleep, and tearing into an “American cheeseburger. And fries. I love American food,” he said.

For more on Campbell’s around-the-world flight and to follow his progress, visiteenworldflight.com.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.