Round-the-world trips that made aviation history

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Whether in aircraft or hot-air balloons, with or without stop-offs, and sometimes solo: round-the-world trips by air have produced several records since 1924.

Solar Impulse 2, which on Tuesday completed the first round-the-world journey using only solar energy, is the latest to circumnavigate the globe and enter the record books.

– American pioneers –

In 1924, the American duos Lowell Smith and Leslie Arnold and Erik Nelson and John Harding carried out the first round-the-world trip from Seattle to Seattle in the United States aboard two Douglas DT2s. The journey took them 175 days — from April 6 to September 28 — or 371 hours and 11 minutes of flying time over 66 days.

In 1931, it took eight days, 11 hours and 45 minutes for Wiley Post and Harold Gatty to complete their round-the-world trip in a propeller plane, with stop-offs. Post in 1933 became the first to fly around the world solo, with multiple stop-offs.

In 1986, the duo Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan flew the Voyager on the first round-the-world trip without stop-offs or refuelling. They left on December 14 from the Edwards Air Force Base in California and returned on December 23 after a flight of around 42,000 kilometres (26,097 miles) in nine days.

– Round the world by balloon –

– Swiss national Bertrand Piccard, one of the heroes of the Solar Impulse adventure, already made his mark in the skies back in March 1999 when he completed the first round-the-world trip in a balloon, without stop-offs.

With Britain’s Brian Jones, aboard the Breitling Orbiter III, he accomplished the feat in 15 days, 10 hours and 24 minutes over a distance of 40,814 kilometres (25,360 miles).

The two men actually left from Chateau d’Oex in Switzerland and had been in the air for 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes travelling 45,633 kilometres (28,355 miles) before landing in the Egyptian desert. It was the longest flight in air transport history in terms of distance and duration.

On July 4, 2002, in his balloon Spirit of Freedom, America’s Steve Fossett entered aviation history with a solo round-the-world trip in a balloon, after five previous fruitless attempts by the adventurer-businessman. He left on June 19 from the town of Northam in western Australia, covering more than 29,853 kilometres (18,549 miles) in 14 days and 19 hours in a gondola of six square metres (64 square feet).

– Catamaran in the skies –

On March 3, 2005, Fossett became the first man to achieve, in just under three days, a solo round-the-world trip without stop-offs or refuelling aboard the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, an ultra-light engine aircraft which can be compared to a catamaran boat.

The multi-millionaire adventurer travelled 36,817 kilometres (22,877 miles) in 67 hours, one minute and 46 seconds. The aircraft, slender like a glider, flew at a speed of more than 600 kilometres (372 miles) an hour at an altitude of more than 13,000 metres (42,650 feet).

On February 11, 2006, he again circumnavigated the globe non-stop and without refuelling in 76 hours, 45 minutes in the GlobalFlyer, setting the record for the longest flight by any aircraft in history covering a distance of 42,450 kilometres (25,775 miles).

It turned out to be his last record: his bones were found a year after he disappeared when flying a small plane on September 3, 2007.

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