China / Society

Pilot aims to be first Chinese woman to circle globe

By Zhao Xinying (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-16 07:53

Not everybody gets to fulfill their dreams, but 31-year-old Chen Jingxian, a lawyer from a small town in Sichuan province, is well on the way to living hers - to be the first Chinese woman to fly around the world.

To make the dream sweeter, Chen is aiming to win a prize of 1 million yuan ($150,000) for a circumnavigation by a female Chinese pilot.

Following in the footsteps of famous pilots like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Chen departed Cleveland, Ohio, in a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza on Aug 1. She stopped in New York, Boston, Canada, Greenland and Iceland, finally reaching Paris. There, she spoke to China Daily with her stuffed toy cat named Ebony, and her support crew, which is accompanying her on the plane.

After Paris, she plans to touch down in Spain, Italy, Greece and Egypt, traverse Saudi Arabia to Dubai, and hop from India through Thailand to China. She is still applying for permission to land in China. After a brief stop in her homeland, she plans to head for Japan and Russia before re-entering the US by way of Alaska.

The feat is a huge undertaking for a woman who had never been to a big city until she attended a university in Beijing at the age of 18. There, she read Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars, books about aviation by legendary French pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince.

Pilot aims to be first Chinese woman to circle globe

"His experience made me want to know how to fly and what it's like to fly around the world," Chen said.

Chen estimates it will take 45 to 60 days to complete her trip. To make ends meet, she has borrowed money from family and friends. Chen, who jokingly describes herself as a "weekend pilot", is a corporate lawyer who divides her time between Shanghai and New York.

She left Beijing in 2011 for New York to get a master's in law. There, she set about learning to fly on weekends. With 300 flying hours under her belt, she started approaching rental companies to get a plane. After many rejections, she met with Air Z Charter and T & G Flying Club, run by Richard Rohl.

"I was very skeptical about the letter Chen sent me at the beginning," Rohl recalls. Impressed by her determination, he asked student pilot Amanda Lincoln to meet Chen. The schoolteacher hit it off with the Chinese lawyer.

"From the first meeting, we connected because we share the same love for flying," Lincoln said. "Female pilots are rare commodities, not only in the US, but also internationally. She is legitimate, educated and determined.

"Chen is not only a role model to me, she is also setting a good standard for other women to reach out and achieving their highest dreams."

Lincoln, as well as Rohl and his father Larry - both pilots who will be Chen's emergency backups - became part of her support crew in the aircraft.

The prize money was put up by Chen Wei, from Changsha, Hunan province, who was the first Chinese pilot to circumnavigate the globe, in 2011. He flew a Socata single-engine turboprop 40,200 kilometers through 39 cities in 21 countries.

"Meeting a young woman like Chen, who is very personable and intelligent, and shares this same dream, was wonderful," Larry said. "She made me look back at myself when I was her age."

Firsts in around-the-world flight

1924 - First to fly around world: Four Douglas World Cruiser aircraft with eight US crewmen set out from Seattle, Washington. Three of the aircraft completed the circuit in 175 days.

1933 - First solo trip: Wiley Post from the United States takes 7 days, 18 hours to accomplish the feat.

1 949 - First nonstop: US Air Force team completes the circuit in 94 hours, 1 minute. Their plane was refueled in flight four times.

1964 - First woman solo: Geraldine Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world. Her single-engine Cessna 180 was called the Spirit of Columbus.

1986 - First nonstop, non-refueling flight: Voyager, a lightweight aircraft with a front canard wing, was flown by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. They made the trip in 9 days, 3 minutes, 44 seconds.

2011 - First Chinese men's solo: Chen Wei from Changsha, Hunan province, became the first male Chinese pilot to circumnavigate the globe in a Socata TBM 700 single-engine turboprop.


Pilot aims to be first Chinese woman to circle globe

Chen Jingxian with two members of her support crew, Larry Rohl (right) and Richard Rohl in front of their airplane in France. Tuo Yannan / China Daily

Hot Topics