Moments and Milestones: Adventures of a Flight Recorder

Moments and Milestones: Adventures of a Flight Recorder

When a U.S. pilot attempts a record in anything that flies, the National Aeronautic Association observes the attempt, verifies the pilot’s performance, and ensures that the flight is conducted under the sporting codes of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Generally, these observations are conducted by  the NAA’s Contest and Records Board and Advisory Panel. A year after I started working for the NAA, I was invited to join the Advisory Panel. A few months later, I got my first assignment as an observer. It was a doozy.

In February 2000, Steve Fossett and two copilots attempted an around-the-world speed record in Fossett’s Cessna Citation X jet. An observer had to go along to verify that they flew the course they had declared. On my first Valentine’s Day as a married man (a fact my wife has not forgotten to this day), Fossett, his copilots, and I roared out of Los Angeles International Airport, headed east. Less than two days later, we arrived back at LAX from the west, having stopped in Bermuda, Morocco, Egypt, India, Japan, and Midway Island. Looking over their shoulders in the cockpit, I had verified that the crew had followed their flight plan. They achieved a record-breaking average speed of nearly 560 mph—including the time spent on the ground.

Fifteen months later, Bombardier Aerospace attempted a number of city-to-city speed records, with employees flying five of their aircraft to the 2001 Paris Air Show: a Global Express, a Challenger 604, and three Learjets—a 31A, a 45, and a 60. The aircraft would depart from different locations and were to arrive in Paris simultaneously. As an observer, I drew the Learjet 45.

As the sun peeked over the horizon in Montreal, Rod Lundy and Shawn Christian fired up the turbofans and we headed for the single planned stop, Keflavik, Iceland. Hours later, we broke through an overcast with Keflavik right off the nose. To minimize time on the ground—the clock was still ticking for a speed record from Montreal to Paris—the company had arranged for a fuel truck to be waiting for us.

The first to overfly Le Bourget airport was the Learjet 31A, arriving from Belfast. Twelve minutes later, our Learjet passed over the field, with the Learjet 60 (from Wichita via Gander) 94 seconds behind us. The Challenger 604, arriving from Berlin, touched down nine minutes later. The Global Express, which had a two-hour weather delay in New York, landed less than an hour later.

After landing, I collected data from my counterparts on the other aircraft and calculated the elapsed time and average speeds for the various flight legs. Bombardier had made an exciting entrance to the Paris Air Show, and the five crews claimed nine speed records.

—Mike Pablo