Tom Casey, who faced extraordinary obstacles but eventually succeeded in flying around the world in a single-engine seaplane in 1990, died on March 29. He was 82 years old.
Casey flew the trip by himself, and it was the first of its kind with landings all done on water in a Cessna 206 on Wipaire floats. Not one to fuss with the niceties of official approval, Casey first attempted to fly the trip westbound from Lake Washington in Seattle, but Russia denied him entry and he decided to turn around and complete the trip flying to the east.
Beset by myriad challenges, the trip took 188 days, 128 more than the originally planned 60. A long delay resulted when Casey needed major back surgery while in Saudi Arabia, during the Gulf War in Kuwait. Despite being warned about a suspect oil sample before flying to Alaska, Casey pressed on and made a harrowing landing after a catastrophic engine failure, then cooled his heels waiting for a new engine to arrive and be installed.
The extraordinary trip is well captured in the book Floatplane Odyssey, written by Casey’s long-time friend Bill Coleman. The book is no paean to Casey’s skills but unsparingly captures the challenges he faced, many of which resulted from his own reluctance to follow best practices. He survived typhoons, house arrest, and an unauthorized sneaky flight through Japan, and occasionally had to bribe aviation ministers to look the other way.
On Dec. 18, 1990, Casey arrived back at Lake Washington, but it wasn’t until Coleman’s book was published that Casey got some of the recognition that he deserved. However, the National Aeronautic Association never recognized Casey’s journey.
Casey was a graduate of Temple University and had served in the U.S. Navy before attending college.