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Pilot returns home after circling the globe

By Zhang Yu in Shijiazhuang | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-04 08:14

A 54-year-old amateur pilot has become the first man to circumnavigate the globe in a private plane starting and ending in China.

Zhang Bo, from Gansu province, landed at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sept 24 after a 49-day, 40,818-km trip around the world.

He made 44 stops in 23 countries, but it was not until arriving in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, that he realized the enormity of the challenge he had almost finished.

"I was relieved to be back home," Zhang was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency. "Most people my age have lost the desire to try something new, let alone be adventurous, but I wanted to find something exciting to challenge me, so I chose flying."

Zhang decided to attempt a circumnavigation of the Earth because, although it had been done more than 350 times before, "none of them started in China".

He began his flight training two years ago at the University of Illinois in the United States and received his private pilot's license after just 58 days training.

Pilot returns home after circling the globe

After going on to log more than 700 hours flight time, including more than 1,300 takeoffs and landings, Zhang felt confident about the challenges ahead-but his family didn't support him immediately when they heard about his plans.

They worried about his safety, and their fears were only allayed after Zhang took them all up in a private plane to show them his newfound skills. With his family's support secured, he readied his plane - a single-engine SOCATA TBM 700 - planned his flight path and applied for the necessary permissions.

Zhang and his four passengers took off from Beijing on August 7, but the trip turned out to be more challenging than expected.

Because of its small size, the plane was only able to fly a maximum distance of 2,300 km at any one time and required frequent refueling. It was also more easily influenced by bad weather and turbulence, and required greater concentration to fly than larger aircraft, according to Zhang.

"The weather along the route was changeable, especially in areas with low clouds and many mountains," he said. But the most treacherous moment occurred in Iceland, when a burst tire almost sent the team careering off a runway.

"It happened while we were taxiing and I couldn't use the brake because I could have easily lost control of the plane," Zhang said. "When it finally stopped, we were only 90 meters away from the end of the runway - but after all that, we made it."

Zhang is proud of what he achieved with his flight, but he said his real motivation was to inspire other Chinese to do the same.

He said there are more than 220,000 privately owned planes in the US, while in China there are only about 2,000 - leaving much room for development.

"It's not a fantasy or an impossible dream," he said. "Flying an aircraft or having a career in general aviation is achievable by anyone, with the right amount of effort."

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