^ Ron’s team of mechanics customized the avionics and electronics of the Around The World 1994 Bell 206B Jet Ranger. The cockpit was incredibly high tech for 1994, utilizing the latest in GPS technology, the finest avionics, and a mounted laptop computer. [See photo below.]
The helicopter was purchased new from the Bell factory in Canada — with a few custom tweaks. Ron visited the factory numerous times as the aircraft was coming down the assembly line [see photo below], and was there to speak with test pilots during every phase. Knowing that engine power and fuel efficiency would be critical components of the trip’s success (and his survival over cold ocean water without floats), Ron raised a red flag when the new engine originally made for the ship by Allison tested at +0% over minimum power. Ron sought out a replacement. Standard Aero, an engine maintenance company, offered a 1975 Jet Ranger engine that had been rebuilt to such perfection that it achieved +15%. The talented detail hawks at Standard Aero installed the better-than-new rebuilt engine at the Bell factory, a first for them. Standard Aero became a sponsor of the trip, loaning Ron the souped-up-hot-rod-retro engine free of charge. As shown below, Ron happily appeared in Standard Aero industry magazine ads after the trip. (To his credit, the then new President of Allison invited Ron to participate in a review of the their manufacturing processes, resulting in improvements in new engine quality.)
One doesn’t just hop into an aircraft and fly around the world. Ron orchestrated months of precise planning and precautionary safety training. PHI, Inc. helped direct Ron to the best emergency pilot training in the country. His health and emergency readiness were tested in every way imaginable during the training. [Pictured below: Ron in the water-tight submersion suit that he wore while flying over long stretches of frigid ocean, and the trainee in a raft in pool of VERY cold water, learning what it would feel like if he crashed in said ocean.] Ron was grateful he did not end up having an emergency during the trip.
During the journey, Ron took part in an ongoing pilot fatigue study conducted by NASA to improve long flight safety. This marked the first time a helicopter pilot was involved in the study. He wore a wrist strap [pictured below] to record his heart rate, pulse, sleep patterns, flight time, etc., which NASA scientists evaluated after his return. Ron notes that the personal monitoring devices of the current day (Apple® Watch, etc.) are much more sleek than this clunky little box on a strap he sported for the duration of his trip.
For the 1994 trip, Ron was totally on his own in terms of maintaining the helicopter. After each day of flying, he performed post-flight inspections — often in the dark [see below].
Ron was greeted warmly all over the world, with crowds gathering to wish him well as he took off for his next leg of the journey. Word of his presence seemed to travel fast — especially in the small towns of Russia! He gave out stickers and candy to the crowds, and was sometimes honored by a person of local importance in a makeshift ceremony as he climbed into his helicopter. [Pictured above, a small town mayor gifts Ron a guide book to the area and invites him to come back anytime.]
Ron also met many pilots at the airports, all of whom seemed inspired and excited by the trip. One military pilot in Russia took the wings right off of his uniform and gave them to Ron. Deeply touched by this, Ron took off his own wings and gave them to the officer with tears in his eyes. One of the most precious gifts he received during the trip, this set of wings reminded Ron that we are all more alike than we are different.
Ron was sent off at the beginning of his trip in style by Bell Helicopter [see photo above of Ron, Peggy and Ross Perot, Jr., whose record Ron was on the way to breaking, wishing him well at the Bell send-off party]. He was greeted by a large crowd of family, friends, colleagues and news media upon his successful return. His wife presented him with a dozen yellow Texas roses, a red carpet was rolled out, and Ron got his greatest wish after 23 ten-hour days in a cockpit: an immediate haircut from his favorite barber, Virgil. [See photos below.]
^ The official documents from NAA and FAI marking Ron’s accomplishment for their record books.
^ Ron’s contribution to Slipping the Surly Bonds, a book of pilot quotations
^ A Bell Helicopter ad spread featuring Ron’s around the world flight (click to enlarge)
55 years flying
1994 around the world eastbound & solo
This page is next –>1996 around the world westbound
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life lessons from flying