65 Days or Bust 

Record-setting flight faces technical, basic hurdles

Matt Pipkin, 25, just got his pilot's license last summer. He's spent a total of 60 hours in the air, with his longest flight being five hours.

His father, Chet Pipkin, a pilot for American Airlines for the last 23 years and a former pilot for the Idaho Air National Guard, said he's flown a plane from Boise to Norway for the Guard, which took nine in-air refuelings. He's also flown between Chicago and Rome, which took 10 to 12 hours.

"I thought that was a lot," he said.

Together, the two Boise residents want to beat the current Guinness World Record for the longest endurance flight of 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes. They're shooting for 65 days in the air starting this October. No stopping to refuel. No landing to pick up supplies. No touching down for potty breaks.

It's a publicity stunt to raise funds to combat child abuse through their Web site, commit65.org.

But there are a few hurdles ... like they don't have a plane, for one. Matt is so convinced he'll be able to find a sponsor to provide the plane for his for-charity flight that he has no backup plan in case none comes through. They also need thousands of gallons of fuel, parts and other supplies. And Chet is worried about blood clots from being cooped up in the cockpit of a Cessna-like custom plane for two months.

And that's not even scratching the surface of the mechanical challenges they face.

In a recent interview with The Idaho Statesman, Matt Pipkin said one of his biggest concerns was that the monotony of the flight might make him bored.

"My guess is when the engine quits, they won't be bored," said Doug Kandle, president of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and owner of White Cloud Aviation in Caldwell.

Commercial planes are serviced every 100 hours, according to Kandle. Private planes owned by hobbyists are typically serviced once or twice a year, but most of them are only flown about 100 hours a year, he said.

"It's as if you were flying this plane for 15 years and never having it serviced."

The Pipkins want to use an experimental aircraft similar in structure to a light Cessna. Because it wouldn't be a manufactured plane, it would be subject to fewer Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding the kinds of changes they can make, allowing them to build a fuel tank onto the belly of the plane and add an electric pump system to pump fuel from the belly tank to the existing tanks in the wings.

To pull off the record flight, the Pipkins plan to do in-air refuelings every 12 hours.

"Instead of air-to-air, it'll be ground-to-air," Matt said. They'll fly low to the ground, lower a pulley to hoist up a fuel line, and refuel from a truck with a tank of fuel in the back.

Chet is getting some friends from the Air Force to drive a truck with a 150-gallon tank of fuel and connect the tank to the plane's tank. The hose would have a quick-disconnect valve, so if the plane hits a pocket of air that forces it upward while it's in the middle of refueling, they won't have problems with the fuel line breaking or keeping the plane and truck tethered.

They'll add a small platform outside the passenger side and change the passenger door to a folding, accordion-style door that will allow Matt, wearing a harness, to lean out, operate the pulleys and connect the hose while Chet flies. They plan to bring food and other supplies up and send waste down through a similar pulley mechanism.

Other modifications include removing the seat, pedals and steering yoke on the passenger side to make room for oil lines in the cockpit so they can change the oil mid-air. A couple valves could be used to shift the oil supply to another line, which would allow them to add fresh oil and pop out the old filter, Chet explained.

They'll take the back seats out of the four-seat plane to provide room for a small mattress, a portable john and a curtain between the cockpit and the sleeping area for privacy.

"This is a pretty big cabin," Matt said of the 3-and-a-half-foot-wide, four-seat Cessna he and his father used as a visual to point out the modifications they would need to make when they get their plane. "Home sweet home."

A similarly sized plane would give them just enough room to do a few stretches. That's important because blood clots are a major concern when you can't move around, especially for older men, said Chet, who is 58.

They plan to save as much fuel as possible by maintaining a conservative flight pattern.

"The higher you fly, the more fuel-efficient you are," Chet said.

They may set a pattern on autopilot and use a ground proximity warning system to let them know if they get too close to the ground or to a mountain. Technical improvements like these could make it much easier to break the existing world record, which was set back in 1959, Matt said.

"They didn't even have headsets back in '59," he said.

Kandle said he thinks Matt and Chet's plan for ground-to-air refueling is pretty sound.

"That has been done many times before," he said. The kind of airplane modifications they plan to make sound feasible as well, and being able to change the oil and filters on board could buy them some time in the air.

But he's concerned that they aren't making any modifications to the engine. To break this kind of a record, Kandle said, you probably need a stress engineer looking at the engine and trying to figure out ways to design it to run much longer than its normal lifespan. Most plane engines are designed to be run 1,200 to 2,000 hours before they need a complete overhaul. Without regular servicing to take care of things like changing spark plugs and cylinders, the engine life could be shortened considerably.

Matt said he and his dad are talking to the engine manufacturers and companies that overhaul and rebuild engines, but that they don't plan any major modifications to the engine other than making it possible to change the oil mid-flight.

If their engine eventually loses power--as it did with the pilots who set the existing record in 1959--Matt and Chet Pipkin could still glide down and land safely without an engine provided they are over a safe place to land, Kandle said.

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