Adventurer in Single-Engine Plane Now in Race Against Time To Reach the South Pole
February 3, 2004
Gustavus (Gus) McLeod, who made history in 2000 when he became the first pilot to fly to the North Pole in an open-cockpit plane, is trying now to become the first person to successfully circumnavigate the globe, crossing both the North and South Poles, in a single engine aircraft. McLeod is pinning his hopes on a tiny one-of-a-kind plane called the Firefly, which barely accommodates his 6 foot 2 inch, 250 pound frame. Designed by Velocity Aircraft of Sebastian, Florida, and modified by the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, the Firefly features a forward canard wing configuration similar to the one used by the Wright Brothers. The propeller is in the rear.
McLeod set out December 29th from College Park, Maryland on this 30,000 mile journey to honor the pioneers of aviation, especially his childhood heroes, the Tuskegee Airmen. The plane began to burn too much oil, and McLeod was forced to make a pit stop in Florida at Velocity’s headquarters, where the Firefly’s engine was fitted with new cylinders. Extra fuel tanks were also installed to extend the plane’s range. On January 21st, McLeod took off from Florida to continue his journey. After passing over Cuba, the plane began to experience electrical problems, and McLeod had to return to Florida. Finally, on January 25th, after the plane was completely rewired, McLeod set out again and made it to Panama City.
From Panama City, McLeod has continued south. After an unscheduled stop in Ecuador, he has made landings in Peru (Tumbes and Lima), Chile (Arica and Santiago) and Argentina (Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia). Now he finds himself in a race against time to make it over the South Pole while there is still a chance to find a weather window. What passes for summer in Antarctica is coming to an end, and soon the conditions will become too inhospitable for small aircraft. Even if the weather breaks and McLeod gets a perfect day, he faces a daunting task. The trip from Ushuaia to the South Pole and back will require flying for 27 hours without a break, over the planet’s most desolate terrain, where temperatures are likely to reach more the fifty degrees below zero. At least three other fliers have attempted this feat in the last year alone, and all either crashed or turned back because of the severe environment they encountered in Antarctica.
McLeod’s adventure is being produced for television by Three Roads Communications, Inc., of Frederick, MD, the producers of the public television series Legends of Airpower. “Gus is a great inspiration to all of us,” says Three Roads president, Russ Hodge. A companion curriculum has been developed by a team from Florida Atlantic University headed by Dr. Barbara Ganson, to help school children learn about the world's aviation pioneers. For more information about Gus McLeod visit http://www.gusmcleod.com.
(301) 662-4121, ext. 111