TAG Global claims record for polar circumnavigation

 - December 31, 2008, 6:20 AM
TAG Group vice president Aziz Ojjeh and a team of four other pilots broke a
31-year-old speed record for a pole-to-pole circumnavigation of the globe in late November. The TransPolar08 crew circled the globe over the North and South Poles in a Bombardier Global Express, chopping 95 minutes off the record previously held by a Pan Am Boeing 747SP that made the trip in October 1977.

The Ojjeh team completed the trip in 52 hours and 32 minutes, at an average groundspeed of 444 knots. The Pan Am 747SP made the same flight in 54 hours and 7 minutes, at an average speed of 423 knots. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) is assessing flight data from the Global Express as it decides whether to validate the new record, at which point it will confirm the total distance flown.

Ojjeh and his crew opted to fly westbound, preferring to take a chance on the strength of prevailing headwinds to conduct more of the flight in daylight than if they had taken the eastbound option. The westerly course also allowed them to avoid congested airspace.

The headwinds encountered proved somewhat stronger than anticipated at an average speed of 17 knots. However, the TAG team made up time on technical stops, which averaged 34 minutes, compared with the 48-minute average that had been allowed for in the flight planning. The fastest technical stop–which lasted 21 minutes–was achieved at Sal in the Cape Verde Islands.

Under FAI rules, those making record attempts have to declare the waypoints through which they will fly; the distance flown is calculated as the Great Circle distance between these. In practice, the TAG Transpolar team flew farther between some of the waypoints in an attempt to avoid the worst of the headwinds.

Ojjeh shared the six legs with four fellow pilots: Diego Ulrich and John Holter (with TAG Aviation Europe) and Mike Mueller and Emil St Hilaire (with Canada-based flight crew agency ACASS). Ojjeh was in the left seat of the Global Express for the first and last legs, while the four other pilots each took a turn in the left seat.

The cockpit crew were supported by in-flight coordinator Jeff Weber (president of TAG Aviation Services, Inc.), flight engineer Fabrice Milliet (from TAG Aviation Europe), reserve pilot Diego Vargas (TAG Aviation Europe) and FAI official observer Malek Adjadj.

Bombardier supported the record flight attempt by posting a field service representative at each of the designated technical stops. “But they had nothing to do,” said Ojjeh. “The performance of the Global Express was absolutely incredible. We kept our fingers crossed, but the only thing that went wrong was the Airshow [moving map display] in the cabin.” The TAG TransPolar flight was originally scheduled to take place next year to mark the 25th anniversary of Ojjeh’s having broken an eastbound around-the-world speed record in a Bombardier Challenger. In September 2008, Ojjeh decided to bring it forward to November, requiring the acceleration of the complex flight-planning job.

So what piloting challenges remain for Ojjeh, who generally logs around 200 flight hours per year, most of it in the Global Express? “My first thought is how much
I would like to go back to some of the places I saw en route and take a vacation,” he commented. But when the prospect of attempting to beat his own record in one of the proposed supersonic business jets was suggested, he conceded that this might be too tempting to resist.

TAG TransPolar 08 Record Flight Attempt
• Departs TAG Aviation’s Farnborough Airport in the UK at 10.05.54 UTC on November 21
• First technical stop at Whitehorse, Canada
• Second technical stop at Majuro, Marshall Islands
• Third technical stop at Christchurch, New Zealand
• Fourth technical stop at Punta Arenas, Chile
• Fifth technical stop at Sal, Cape Verde Islands