The clock was ticking for pilot Brian Lloyd.
Lloyd, 62, learned to fly when he was 14, and has accumulated tens of thousands of miles in the air — he said he stopped counting after a while.
But there’s been one voyage that has been on his mind for the better part of three decades — circumnavigating the globe at the equator on the same route Amelia Earhart did back in 1937, the famous flight that she and navigator Frederick Noonan attempted before disappearing.
“I have been talking about this trip for 30 years, telling people I was going to do this someday. Eventually I had to either put-up or shut-up,” he said. “I decided to put-up.”
Lloyd, a Texas native, embarked on the two-month, solo, round-the-world adventure on June 1, the 80th anniversary of Earhart’s final flight.
He is currently on a path to visit Oahu and Kauai.
“Amelia Earhart was going to go to Honolulu and then on to Oakland after Howland Island. I am stopping in Kauai because my high school friend, Ed Haaker, is there,” Lloyd said. “Ed has been a big supporter of my trip so I decided to stop and see him. After all, when one is in control of the airplane, one can make it go anywhere.”
Haaker told TGI back in May about Lloyd’s voyage, calling it an incredible accomplishment.
But Lloyd isn’t interested in setting any type of speed records or earning global recognition. He’s doing it for the thrill.
“First and probably foremost is just curiosity, to see what it would be like to fly 30,000 miles in Amelia Earhart’s shoes. We can talk about a thing until we are blue in the face but until you actually do it, you never quite know,” he said. “Another motivation was to challenge myself. Can I really do this? Do I have the stamina?”
As of Thursday afternoon, Lloyd was in New Zealand and planned to set course for Pago Pago, American Samoa, on Saturday, where he planned to spend two nights before embarking on an 18-hour flight to Kauai.
He admitted that circumnavigating the globe has been a challenge, despite nearly 50 years of aviation experience. He’s had to rely on all of that experience so far, he said.
“Now I know (what it’s like to fly for this duration),” he said. “As a result, my respect for Amelia Earhart as a pilot and a person has risen substantially. She gave away the advantages of tailwinds and more first-world support in order to, at the time, fly a greater distance around the world. In some ways, it is the aviation equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest.”
Lloyd has followed Earhart’s route as much as he can, but had to skip Venezuela, Mali, Eritrea and Yemen because it is “geopolitically unsafe for people from the U.S.”
He skipped Papua New Guinea to spend more time in Australia for personal reasons, but has visited the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Brazil, Senegal, Chad, Sudan, Oman, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand — so far.
After Kauai, he will fly to Oahu before heading off to Oakland, Calif. After Oakland, he will fly to Atchison, Kansas, the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, and then on to Airventure Oshkosh in Wisconsin, the world’s biggest aviation event and air show.Oshkosh will be the official end of the circumnavigation as Lloyd will have crossed every line of longitude upon arriving there.
“This is the most difficult flying I have ever attempted. So far, I have been up to the task but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging,” he said. “In the United States, we are spoiled by all the support services we have for aviation everywhere we go. That is not the case for my trip. Finding fuel and qualified mechanics has been difficult. In fact, over most of the world I would have to say that very little has changed since her time.”
To attempt this voyage, Lloyd made some alterations to his plane, a 1979 Mooney M20K “231” named “Spirit.”
He was able to equip the plane with modern navigation equipment, long-range radio and satellite communications and modified his plane to carry an extra 150 gallons of fuel.
Lloyd’s plane isn’t modeled after the Earhart’s. Instead, it bears a closer resemblance to aviator Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” aircraft.
“I plan to do his flight, non-stop from New York to Paris, if the conditions are right,” Lloyd said.
Perhaps these goals come naturally to Lloyd, whose father was an aviator in the U.S. Navy.
“I have never not been around aviation and aircraft for my entire life. It was a long time before I realized as a kid that not everyone got in a small plane to travel,” he said.
The end of this current journey will signal a dream come true.
“It was certainly more challenging than I ever imagined it would be. It is kind of like, as a runner, discovering you really can run a marathon. I challenged myself and I am pleased to discover that I was up to the task after all,” Lloyd said.
After flying a total distance of around 28,000 nautical miles when it’s all said and done, Lloyd is looking forward to well-deserved rest.
“At this point, it feels like I have been doing it forever,” he said. “Did I do anything before this trip? I forget.”