If you go to the Earthrounders.com website and search for single-engine completed world tours, you will see many Cessna Caravans, Pilatus PC-12s, Beech Bonanzas, Mooneys and Piper Saratogas, Cherokee Sixes and Malibuses. With their massive payloads, these aircraft were easily able to take on the extra fuel needed to safely transition the longer legs over the ocean of such a trip.
What you won’t see are very many light sport aircraft.
When you do the math, it seems nearly impossible to carry enough fuel in an LSA for a round-the-world flight with two pilots on board plus the safety gear required for extended over-water operations. But during two different ground missions, pilots of sling plane in South Africa were able to circumnavigate the globe in heavily modified LSAs.
And on a more recent trip, Belgian pilot Zara Rutherford flew a Rotax-powered “ultra-light” Shark aircraft (comparable to our LSAs) on a 155-day trip, breaking the Guinness World Record for youngest woman to fly solo around the world.
Let’s see how Team Sling made their two Earthrounder flights.
The first assignment
In mid-July 2009, Sling pilots Mike Blyth, the company’s director, and James Pitman, the company’s president, left Johannesburg, South Africa in a two-seat Sling LSA using a Rotax engine 912ULS of 100 hp. The Sling was modified with an increase in fuel volume from 39 US gallons in two wing tanks to 119 gallons in six separate wing tanks. Other modifications included reclining seats, a reinforced main gear and the installation of a satellite tracking device.
Blyth and Pitman returned to Johannesburg at the end of August after flying for 40 days, visiting 12 countries and covering a distance of approximately 24,400 nautical miles.
“Each circumnavigation has had its own challenges and rewards,” Blyth said. “The challenges have always been the weather and managing the bureaucracy, but it has never been the plane or the pilots. The rewards were the sense of accomplishment after the longest and toughest flights like the 27 hour flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Cape Town, South Africa.
Pitman added that the flight was as much a test bed as an adventure.
“We learn in adversity,” he said. “Our flights around the world have been a melting pot in which we discovered our aircraft to perfect them. This is not just a textbook exercise. It all works because it has to when you’re over the ocean at night flying through storms!
The second assignment
For Sling’s second Earthrounder flight in 2015, four pilots shared time flying a Sling 2 LSA with a Rotax 912iS engine. Alongside Blyth and Pitman, Patrick Huang, the plane’s owner, and Jean d’Assonville, the company’s technical director. Huang flew the entire flight, while the other three pilots each flew a third of the route. The flight lasted 78 days, crossed 12 countries and covered an approximate distance of 25,000 nautical miles.
For this flight, which departed and peaked again in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Sling LSA’s fuel system was modified from the first successful flight in 2009. Fuel was increased from 39 US gallons in two tanks of wing to 79 gallons in four separate wing tanks. . An additional single removable fuel tank in the rear luggage compartment had a capacity of 32 US gallons for a total fuel capacity of 111 US gallons. And along with the satellite tracking device, an HF radio was installed for this flight.
Around the world in LSA is not for everyone
While not every pilot is ready or willing to attempt Earthrounder flight in an LSA, Sling’s two flights and one by Rutherford in his Shark UL prove it can be done. Key to these flights was the exceptionally low fuel burn of the Rotax 912 engines in all three aircraft, coupled with incredibly thorough flight planning and a formidable ground support system. Simply adding fuel tanks where fuel tanks are not normally found is not enough to complete the long legs required on these flights. It takes courage, piloting skills, and yes, maybe even a bit of luck, to fully circumnavigate this rock we all live on in an LSA.