Qatar Executive breaks circumnavigation speed record

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Action Aviation chairman Hamish Harding, astronaut Terry Virts and crew made history by beating the world record for any aircraft flying over the North and South poles in a Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER aircraft. The mission's record flight time is 46 hours, 39 minutes and 38 seconds and was achieved at an average speed of 465 nm.

“Our mission, titled One More Orbit, pays homage to the Apollo 11 moon landing achievement, by highlighting how humans push the boundaries of aeronautics,” says Harding. “We did this during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the 500th anniversary of man first circling the planet. It is our way of paying tribute to the past, the present and the future of space exploration.”

The Gulfstream G650ER departed the NASA shuttle landing facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on Tuesday, 9 July at 9.32am to begin its pole to pole mission. The One More Orbit team on board consisted of NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Action Aviation chairman Hamish Harding, while the Qatar Executive crew consisted of pilots Jacob Obe Bech, Jeremy Ascough and Yevgen Vasylenko, engineer Benjamin Reuger and flight attendant Magdalena Starowicz.

Russian cosmonaut, Colonel Gennady Padalka, record holder for the most days in space by any human (879 days), joined the One More Orbit crew in Nursultan, Kazakhstan and got off again in Mauritius for a short beach holiday.

Qatar Executive EVP Ettore Rodaro says, “Our Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650 is the fastest ultra-long-range business jet in the world. It has phenomenal range capabilities, industry-leading cabin technology and unparalleled passenger comfort, making it the perfect aircraft to attempt this mission in. It can fly at a faster speed for longer distances than any other jet, with its incredible 7,500 nautical mile (13,890 km) range.”

The mission was split into four sectors: NASA shuttle landing facility in Florida to Astana; Astana to Mauritius; Mauritius to Chile; and Chile back to NASA, Florida, with refueling pit stops in each location. The aircraft landed at Kennedy Space Centre on Thursday, 11 July, successfully setting a new world record of flying pole to pole in 46 hours and 40 minutes.

Qatar Airways Group chief executive HE Mr Akbar Al Baker says: “Qatar Executive, together with the One More Orbit team, has made history. A mission like this takes a huge amount of planning as we need to factor in the flight paths, fuel stops, potential weather conditions and make plans for all possibilities. Many people behind the scenes worked tirelessly to ensure this mission was a success and I am very proud that we broke the world record, a first for Qatar Executive, which will be certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and Guinness World Records.”

“The new record, which I am presenting to the FAI, for the fastest aerial circumnavigation of the Earth via both geographical poles is now 46 hours 40 mins, achieved by Captain Hamish Harding (UK) and Qatar Executive (Qatar) on 11 July 2019,” says Kris Maynard, official representative of the FAI and the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom. He also said that Harding and Qatar Executive will be claiming 12 more speed over recognised course record claims, including the fastest time ever achieved from the North Pole to South Pole, which took 23 hours and 30 minutes.

Virts, a former commander of the International Space Station and filmmaker known for his work on the IMAX film, A Beautiful Planet, is chronicling the complex preparations and global effort it takes to achieve this historic record. The production crew covered location action in Florida, chile, Kazakhstan and Mauritius. “We’ve captured a documentary about the mission, which we hope to share with audiences worldwide in the near future,” he says.

The One More Orbit team was sponsored by Satcom Direct and inmarsat, who provided the satellite bandwidth and live feed from the aircraft; G-Technology; Action Aviation; Space Florida; and Carbon Underground for their efforts to make this mission carbon negative. Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce says: “I am delighted that, as Inmarsat celebrates 40 years of innovation and chartering new digital frontiers, we have this amazing opportunity to support the 50th celebration of one of the space industry's most momentous events; the Apollo 11 moon landing. I believe that bold endeavours like One More Orbit offer a moment for self-reflection. They remind us to keep pushing the boundaries of what's possible in our day-to-day lives as we too keep pushing the boundaries of what our satellite communications can do to connect the world to a better future.”

"The Carbon Underground is proud to be a partner of this historic mission by making it carbon negative,” adds co-founder and presidend Larry Kopald. “By calling attention to one of humankind's greatest efforts we remind ourselves of what we are capable of doing. Alleviating the existential threat of climate change by restoring the carbon balance and cycle will take a similar effort, with a similar commitment to speed.”

At the celebratory reception that followed the landing, Virts said: “A dream, a team, a machine, a new world record. We could not have done this without the great support of Qatar Executive, Space Florida, Untitled and NASA. And at the post-landing event, Mikkelson and Starowicz were identified by the FAI adjudicator as the first women in history to complete the polar circumnavigation of the earth.

Also in attendance were Qatar Airways Group chief executive His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker; NASA's John Graves; Space Florida's Jimmy Moffatt, Sara Shell and Gail Bailey; Untitled executive producer Jim Evans; Catherine Rost and Dylan Rodrigues of Satcom Direct; a number of Qatar Executive support staff; and the entire documentary production crew. Staff from Space Florida's Shuttle Landing Facility also attended, along with various NASA staff who stopped by for the celebrations.

Al Baker said: “Qatar Executive, together with the One More Orbit team, has made history. A mission like this takes a huge amount of operational planning as we need to optimise the flight paths, fuel stops, potential weather conditions and make contingency plans for all possibilities. Many people behind the scenes worked tirelessly to ensure this mission was a success and I am very proud that we broke the world record; a new first for Qatar Executive.”

Harding notes that: “We did this during the 50th anniversary celebrations and the 500th anniversary of man first circling the planet, which Magellan did by sailing ship. It is our way of paying tribute to the past, the present, and the future of space exploration.”

“The mission utilised the skills of hundreds of talented technicians across the planet and is a testament to what can be achieved when we pull together, even with crazy deadlines and time zone challenges,” says Untitled executive producer Jim Evans. “Our production crew covered all the location action in Florida, Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Chile for the documentary aspect of this project.”

Virts, a Space Shuttle pilot, former commander of the International Space Station and filmmaker known for his work on the IMAX film, A Beautiful Planet, is chronicling the complex preparations and global effort it took to achieve the record. “We're making a documentary about the mission which we will share with audiences worldwide in the near future,” he says.

The crew established radio contact with Benjamin Eberhardt who is over-wintering in Antarctica: “While talking to you as you flew overhead the South Pole, my camera was on the roof … looking for you,” wrote Eberhardt later. “The weather wasn't great, but your lights were bright enough to shine through a thin layer of clouds right overhead, along with the Southern Cross and Pointer Stars. Thanks again for calling us, Hamish. It was a nice surprise communicating with a plane for the first time after five months and hearing some stories of your adventures. I hope it did not get too cold for you over Antarctica … congratulations for the new record!”

Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce adds: “I am delighted that, as Inmarsat celebrates 40 years of innovation and chartering new digital frontiers, we have this amazing opportunity to support the 50th celebration of one of the space industry's most momentous events; the Apollo 11 moon landing. I believe that bold endeavours like One More Orbit offer a moment for self-reflection. They remind us to keep pushing the boundaries of what's possible in our day-to-day lives as we too keep pushing the boundaries of what our satellite communications can do to connect the world to a better future.”

Qatar Executive is the world's largest owner-operator of the ultra-long range G650ER aircraft, which is powered by two Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, the latest and most advanced member of the BR700 engine series. It currently operates a fleet of 18 state-of-the-art private jets including six Gulfstream G650ERs, four Gulfstream G500s, three Bombardier Challenger 605s, four Global 5000s and one Global XRS.

The Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) average speed record stood for 11 years held by Captain Aziz Ojjeh in a Bombardier Global XRS from 2008. Ojjeh completed the polar circumnavigation in 52 hours and 32 minutes, at an average ground speed of 444 knots (or 511 mph or 822 km/h). He did not claim the Guinness world record for his achievement, but would have qualified for both.

According to Guinness World Records the fastest aerial circumnavigation of the Earth via both geographical poles was achieved by Captain Walter Mullikin 42 years ago in a Pan Am Boeing 747SP in 1977 in 54 hours and seven minutes, at an average speed of 423 knots (or 486 mph or 783 km/h). He started and ended in San Francisco, stopping in South Africa and New Zealand.

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