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  • Arnold Palmer's 1976 Record Global Circumnavigation in Learjet 200Y
    Posted by Jim Swickard 9:30 PM on Mar 15, 2010

    BCA Editor-in-Chief writes in his column in this week's Aviation Week & Space Technology that "a bid for an aviation record has flown into controversy even before engine start. Riccardo Mortara, head of Swiss aircraft charter firm Sonnig, plans to depart Geneva on Mar. 19 in the company’s 30-year-old Sabre 65 aiming to establish a new eastbound circumnavigation speed mark for that aircraft class.

    The Sonnig team says the mark to beat is 67 hr., 1 min. set by the late Steve Fossett in the Virgin GlobalFlyer in 2005. Not so, says the National Aeronautic Assn., record-keeper in the U.S., noting that Fossett’s record is for Speed Around the World, Nonstop and Non-refueled. (Mortara plans 10 refueling stops.)

    The applicable record, says the NAA, was set in 1976 by golf legend Arnold Palmer, who circled the globe in a Learjet 36 in 57 hr., 25 min. and 42 sec., averaging 400.23 mph. Any challenger must beat Palmer's record by at least 1 percent for it to count."

    Coincidentally, I supervised the communications for Palmer's flight to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial. Jim Greenwood at Learjet found a Learjet and arranged to "borrow" a registration as N200Y. And USAF allowed the temporary reuse of the call sign "Liberty" for Collins' super high power HF station from the days it backed up U.S. Cold War strategic communications in those pre-satcom days.

    I worked for Collins at the time and supervised the communications with Palmer in flight and on the ground, coordinated dozens of live phone patched interviews with journalists around the world, as well as connecting 200Y with mission operations. It was a fun project.

    The only glitch was at the end of the first leg, 200Y ran low on fuel and we were the only ones talking to him. He asked us to tell the ops center he was diverting to Glamorgan. "What? Say again." "Glamorgan." I'd never heard of it and neither had 200Y Ops. We weren't even sure of the spelling, except it started with "G". And we lost radio contact with Palmer at that point.

    It turned out that the Collins Radio Station had a truly gigantic world atlas. I frantically leafed through the index pages.  There are a lot of places with names starting with "G".  But there is was; Glamorgan, Wales. I told the Ops Center and they called the field just as 200Y was on approach and arranged for a fast turn. The rest of the trip was flown as planned and the record was Arnold Palmer's. 

    Tags: ba99, arnold palmer, around the world record, 1976, Collins, 200Y, Liberty

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