You’d think flying 12-plus hours by yourself above the Pacific Ocean would be daunting and likely lonely. What do you do for so long by yourself? What do you think about while the moon glows outside your window? How do you keep from falling asleep?
Those are just a few of the things I wondered when talking to Adam Broome, who recently completed a magnificent journey around the world in a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza A36. It turns out there’s plenty to do while flying from Hawaii to California, from monitoring clouds and fuel consumption to prepping for mandatory air traffic control check-ins that may occur almost every hour. And it’s far from lonely, as the voices of air traffic controllers crackle in your ears throughout the flight.
“You’re flying an airway, a designated highway in the sky,” says Broome, 60, making his aviation feat seem almost simple. “You’re not bored.”
But it’s not simple at all, and that 12-hour leg was a fraction of the distance Broome traveled. The 88-day trip, which began April 24, took Broome and a rotating crew to 40 airports in 19 different countries and territories. He spent 180 hours in the air altogether, or what he might typically fly in a year. The Hawaii-to-California leg was the longest part of the trip he flew solo.
Broome, a semi-retired corporate attorney, was living out his dream – and the dreams of many pilots – by completing his trip around the globe. He remains matter-of-fact about accomplishing what only 203 people have done before him, according to EarthRounders.com, which among other things, records how many single-engine planes have circumnavigated the world.
George Scheer, who flew with Broome for about two-thirds of the trip, puts in perspective how difficult it is, starting with the costs, planning, time and ambition required from the very beginning.
“It is an unimaginable dream for most of us,” said Scheer, a 64-year-old flight instructor. “It takes an extraordinary person to even dream of it, let alone do it.”
“I don’t know about that,” Broome says.
Feel of freedom
Unlike Scheer, who has been flying since 1975, Broome first took flight later in life. He won a one-hour flight in 2000 at a church auction, never having been in a small plane before. A few years later, his wife, Lissa, gave him a book for their 20th wedding anniversary on how to get a pilot’s license.
They joke now that the $15 book was the most expensive book she ever bought, as general aviation aircraft (or non-commercial aviation) became Adam Broome’s all-consuming hobby.
“It’s hard to explain,” he says, trying to articulate the appeal of small aircraft. “It’s the freedom. You’re learning how to operate a complex piece of machinery and a complex system. It’s an amalgam of adventure.”
Scheer is a former WUNC radio host who is now the chief flight instructor at the Wings of Carolina flying club, which is based at the Raleigh Executive Jetport in Sanford. He says people are drawn to the challenge of flying, plus the camaraderie among aviators.
“There’s a sense of command,” Scheer says. “When you put people on a plane you’re piloting, it’s a tremendous responsibility. It’s a source of pride.”
In 2003, Broome took lessons to earn his pilot’s license. By 2004, Broome, who was the general counsel for Cree from 1995 to 2013, had bought his first plane. He sold the smaller plane and bought the larger Beechcraft Bonanza.
But before buying the Bonanza, Broome and his close friend, Mark Ash, started mulling an around-the-world trip. Ash, a fellow lawyer, had mentored Broome in his flying. The two of them flew six trips to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, bringing the devastated country medical supplies. But Ash died in 2011 before the trip came to fruition.
Still, Broome was determined to see it through and enlisted the help of friends and family who would serve as Mark’s surrogate on the flight. That included Scheer; Broome’s brother-in-law; a friend who is a retired commercial pilot; and his wife.
Arranging the logistics of the trip almost seems like a full-time job. The six-seater plane needed to be modified. Broome and Scheer tell me to think of a small minivan with the rear seats taken out. More importantly, custom fuel tanks were needed to double the amount of fuel that could be carried. A special radio system and engine were installed. The plane isn’t pressurized, so supplemental oxygen was needed.
Broome and his crew went through training if they had to land in the water. Luggage and passenger weights were calculated with the contents of a carefully edited packing list.
As for the route, Broome looked at what others had done before and places he wanted to visit. Broome, Australia, had to be a destination, for obvious reasons. Lissa Broome, a UNC law professor, wanted to join her husband for that Australian portion of the trip.
But the eastbound path and where he landed were dictated by things such as the availability of avgas (the fuel), the country’s regulations and safety.
These challenges, which continued every day of the trip, were part of Broome’s fun. Broome describes the pace of travel as relentless, but he enjoyed solving whatever came his way. Some stops were more difficult than others, in terms of getting fuel or waiting a few extra days for bad weather to change, as in the beginning of the trip in Iceland.
A company was secured to help with some of the logistics, and other earthrounders were consulted. Broome and his crew, for example, were told to wear official-looking pilot uniforms – crisp white shirts with gold bars on the shoulders – knowing that might help them in certain parts of the world. (The bars were bought online.)
“You’re really struck by how unique it is in the United States to have the freedom to fly,” Scheer says.
Seeing the spectrum of developing nations to thriving, wealthy tourist stops certainly had an impact on Broome and his crew. They met all kinds of fascinating, friendly people and took advantage of the food and culture.
“As you go through a short period like this, you see these extremes that are sort of jarring,” Broome said. “It makes you wonder why.”
On July 21, after flying over 33 countries over almost 28,000 nautical miles, Broome and his friend, R. Gary Lopp, the former commercial pilot, landed at RDU Airport to a surprise water salute. In the longstanding ritual, often reserved for retiring pilots, airport fire trucks shoot streams of water over the plane, forming a water arch, as it taxis to the terminal. Broome can be heard laughing in video of the entrance.
The round-the-world adventure seemed to surpass everyone’s expectations.
“It was fantastical to me, the idea,” Scheer said. “I’d known people who have done similar things. I never dreamed in my life it would be something I could do. It’s just too daunting. It’s better in every way that I could have imagined.
“If I never get to do anything in my life, I will feel fulfilled in a way that I never hoped or dreamed of,” he said. “I have Adam to thank for that.”
Broome, for his part, is thankful his wife let him spend three months fulfilling his dream, though she sometimes worried as she followed his plane on an online tracking map.
He doesn’t know what’s next for him, though he jokes – sort of – that he knows a pilot who wants to fly over the North and South poles. He knows he wants another goal to work toward.
Scheer already has called shotgun.
By the numbers
Adam Broome flew 31 Romeo eastbound around the world beginning and ending at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Here’s more about the flight:
The trip: April 24 to July 21, or 88 days.
Altitudes: Typically 15,000 to 19,000 feet above sea level.
Route: 27,995 nautical miles with landings at 40 airports in 19 different countries or territories. He flew over 33 countries. A nautical mile is 15 percent longer than a regular mile.
Flight time: It took 180 hours in the air. The longest leg was from Hawaii to California. Flying 2,100 nautical miles took about 12.5 hours.
The plane: A 1983 single engine Beechcraft Bonanza A36 aircraft that was modified, to include extra capacity wing tip fuel tanks and a turbo-normalized 300 hp engine to allow the plane to fly up to 20,000 feet above sea level.
Notable: Broome is the 204th person to do this since 1924 in the single engine light aircraft category, according to earthrounders.com. Broome’s blog about the trip is at greatcircleflyers.com. Scheer’s blog about the trip is at thisaviationlife.com.
Source: Adam Broome