AROUND THE WORLD IN 60 DAYS
In 2007/8, a group of friends hired Tom to come along on a 60-day flying adventure through 18 countries across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. A trip of a lifetime.
The group clocked a total of 145 hours on a Pilatus PC-12 named Smiling Flyer by owner Morten Sondergaard, while Tom Solo documented the trip with over 30,000 photographs.
There were no hard and fast rules. According to Solo, “there was no plan — just to get the plane around the globe,” and the only reason for the trip was “to show that it can be done”. The crew traversed the globe, visiting Spain, Egypt, Dubai, the Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Caledonia, followed by the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Easter Island, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Cape Verde and Morocco.
To master such a schedule, a sturdy and reliable aircraft is needed, and their Pilatus stood up to the test. The group flew the executive version of the PC-12, complete with leather seats, making the ride relatively comfortable, smooth and efficient. Within hours on his first private flight, Solo observed that he “was sure that this Swiss aircraft is the perfect single engine plane to get around the world with. The Pilatus is really fun, it is a comfortable plane with enough space for eight passengers — there were six of us — and everybody was comfortable. Noise within the plane is low, so we could chat easily, discussing what to do, as our route was not fixed.”
For Solo, the trip soon became a race against time. Treating the trip as more work than play, he became anxious of losing daylight, as they flew continuously eastward. In between flights, the group would rest, discuss the next destination, listen to music or play backgammon. For Solo, rest became elusive as he saw himself always on duty, taking photographs, backing up files, selecting the best images and blogging about them in between. Taking in “new impressions every day — cultural differences, new countries, different languages, new people” was a learning experience for the whole group. The thrills and joys of meeting new people and having exciting experiences in different environments every day were counterbalanced by unexpected difficulties. Brushes with local authorities were commonplace, so the group had to learn quickly how to deal with officers from vastly different cultural and political backgrounds.
One such incidence was a stop in Kalimantan, Indonesia, where they were denied permission to land, but for operational reasons had to do so anyway. Predictably, local authorities were not amused and it took “hours of negotiations and satellite calls” until the aircraft was allowed to continue to Jakarta. Accommodation ranged from five-star luxury resorts with private pools to wooden cottages on small Pacific islands, which the group had to share with each other, as well as many “small animals”. Another brush with the law came when they found themselves stranded on an airstrip in Papua New Guinea, sitting in complete darkness next to their aircraft. Their passports were confiscated and they were surrounded by curious civilians, policemen in shorts and armed military, waiting for the unknown. Eventually, they were cleared of any charges and released. Solo encountered many firsts during his trip, such as long flights between remote islands with panoramic views of oceans, atolls and islands. A special highlight was their landing at the tiny Totegegie airstrip on Mangareva Island, French Polynesia. Built right on top of the atoll, with the vast ocean on the left and the right, this particular stop was utterly unforgettable. “We all knew that landing there was a risk, and so was getting away again,” Solo states. When the time came to head home, Solo found it difficult to resume what used to be his normal life. He refers to his time with the Smiling Flyer as “mind changing”. Solo is now a multilingual globetrotter and private aviation enthusiast, having discovered the perfect way to live his dream. Plans are in the works for another record breaking trip on a private aircraft, as well as an international photo exhibition and an illustrated book on the Smiling Flyer. But then, who needs plans anyway?
Feel free to get in touch with Tom for interviews or any questions.