Dornier descendant plans centenary global flight

 - January 14, 2008, 6:11 AM

At the end of this year, 43-year-old Philippines-based aviator and entrepreneur Iren Dornier plans to fly a soon-to-be-restored Dornier Do-24 seaplane around the world.

The German-born Dornier’s year-long flight of a lifetime will be billed as marking a century of aviation since Wilbur and Orville Wright made the world’s first successful manned, powered airplane flight. Uppermost in Dornier’s mind, however, will be the memory of his grandfather, flying-boat pioneer Claude Dornier.

The three-engine Do-24 was a successor to Claude Dornier’s pride and joy, the Do-X, an enormous 12-engine flying boat that in its day was the world’s largest passenger airplane. In 1931 the Do-X flew from Germany to New York, an amazing feat at the time.

The aircraft Dornier will fly around the world is actually a Do-24TT, which roughly translates as “Do-24 new technology study.” The basic fuselage of a pre-World War II Do-24 was used to build the airplane in 1982.

The complete wing was replaced with a new-technology wing type patented by Dornier, similar to the wing of the Do-328 regional airliner.

The wing’s flight-control system is hydraulically actuated, reflecting the latest technology available at the time, and has three backup systems, as required for large aircraft under JAR requirements. The flaps are electrically actuated, and rudders and elevators are manual, though the original cables were partially exchanged with rods connected directly to the rudder pedals and yoke. The main landing gear is from the Do-31 vertical takeoff aircraft and was integrated under the extended floats. The nose gear used is from a Fokker F27. Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-45 turboprops power the aircraft.

The Do-24TT had been on display at the German Aviation Museum, just outside Munich. Its tail, engines, propellers and spare parts arrived by container in the Philippines late last year. The fuselage and wings were due to be shipped last month. Restoration will be carried out at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (formerly the U.S. Air Force’s Clark Air Base), 50 miles northwest of the Philippine capital of Manila. The restoration work will consist of overhauling the engines and propellers, a full systems check, a general corrosion check and a new paint job.

The interior will be refitted to recall the luxury flying boats of the 1920s and 1930s. Inside the cabin there will be an onboard bar, two sleeping berths and an adjustable observation “love seat,” where people can sit in a glass dome at the rear of the aircraft and enjoy a spectacular 360-degree view. “Because of the low labor rates in the Philippines, we are estimating the restoration and refurbishment work to cost only about $2 million,” said Dornier.

Installed in 1982, the aircraft’s avionics are standard airline instruments of the era, with the basic two-pilot crew complement and radar. “We are considering modifying the panel with electronic instruments, but we will retain the original cockpit,” Dornier noted.

The aircraft’s speed when it was tested in the 1980s was kept at around 140 knots for tests, well below its projected max cruise speed of better than 250 knots. Carrying about five tons of fuel, the aircraft will have a maximum endurance of seven hours. “The aircraft has a large payload capability and extended range–enough that we might try to break the world distance record for flying boats,” Dornier said. The aircraft will initially fly in the Experimental category, but after completion of maintenance and training manuals it will be certified in the Normal category.

Globe Trotting
Dornier’s round-the-world trip will start in the Philippines and will last for about a year. Founder of South East Asian Airlines, a small tourist and commuter carrier based in the Philippines, Dornier will fly many of the old transoceanic routes that his grandfather’s original seaplanes took in the 1920s and 1930s.

The planned route for the world tour will take in Hawaii, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Miami, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Cape Town, Somalia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Corsica, Spain, France, England, Germany, Russia, Dubai, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. “I want to make history like my grandfather did, although in a different way. We are going to fly the aircraft all over the world and participate in major airshows such as Paris and AirVenture Oshkosh. We plan to invite special guests on different segments of the trip.”

The seating configuration will provide accommodation for 15 people, including the crew–a pilot, first officer, mechanic and coordinator/ assistant. “We have received interest from documentary TV channels about recording the flight and expect also to carry two or three of those people,” he said. Dornier is pursuing corporate sponsors to finance his trip.

After the world tour South East Asian Airlines will operate the Do-24 on demand as a charter aircraft in the Philippines, mainly taking tourists to remote islands and resorts.

The Do-24 has historically proven high-seas (Stage 4) operational capabilities, although Dornier noted that “there is always concern about such an aircraft, considering it is one of a kind.”

Dornier is a man of many talents. As well as being an aviator and an entrepreneur, he is an engineer, an inventor, a photographer, an artist, and a watch designer. When he was in his early 20s, he worked as a fashion photographer in Munich, providing pictures for catalogs, fashion magazines and designers such as the late Gianni Versace.

Some years later Dornier became interested in aviation. He went to the U.S. to learn to fly airplanes and helicopters, and subsequently became a flight instructor. He currently holds an ATP certificate.

In 1994 Dornier spent a weekend in Palawan in the Philippines. He fell in love with the largely undeveloped island province and soon became a major investor in Club Noah Isabelle, an international award-winning ecotourism resort that opened in the north of the island later that year.

The following year he set up South East Asian Airlines as a small tourist carrier to ferry guests to and from the island getaway. Today, the airline offers more flights to destinations in the Philippines than any other domestic carrier. It focuses on serving remote destinations where widebody aircraft cannot land.