And they’re off! Hong Kong’s first home-made plane to attempt round the world trip takes flight

B-KOO Inspiration is set to travel across 25 countries in three months

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 2016, 1:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 3:19pm

Hong Kong’s first home-made plane to attempt to fly around the world took off from the city’s airport on Sunday morning, marking a major breakthrough for local aviation.

Pilot Hank Cheng and co-pilot Gary Tat set off in their Inspiration B-KOO plane, watched by a large audience of friends, volunteers and journalists, as they embark on a three month trip across 25 countries and 50 airports.

The event at Hong Kong International Airport on Chep Lak Kok even saw an appearance from Chief Executive CY Leung, who commended the Cathay Pacific-led team on their achievements during a pre-flight press conference.

But the landmark flight was almost postponed at the last minute because of bad weather conditions, as a thunderstorm hit the city last night.

Fortunately, the Hong Kong Observatory had removed its red rain alert by Sunday morning, leaving the plane clear to take off for its first journey to Clark in the Philippines.

The longest leg of Inspiration’s journey will see pilot Cheng fly 3,800km from Hilo, Hawaii to San Jose in the US, in an epic 13.5 hour stretch.

The pilot, who is originally from Hong Kong, previously admitted in an interview with the Post that his expedition will be “difficult but not impossible”.

INTERACTIVE: see the route the Inspiration team plans to take around the world

He became visibly emotional at the press conference on Sunday as he told how he would miss his family. He also thanked his collaborators and his employer Cathay for their support in helping to make his boyhood dream become a reality.

Speaking to the press, Cheng said he had been incredibly busy in the lead up to the launch, as he thanked his friends and family for their support.

“I would like to thank my wife,” he said. “My daughter is 8 years old, and my plane is 8 years old too, so I’ve worked on this plane for 8 years, without much time at home. So it was really all her looking after our household, so she is really selfless. I feel like I owe my family a lot, because I’ve used their time to chase for what I want, as they do not want to build planes - they want to have a husband and father to be there to do what a normal husband and father does, but I went to chase after my dreams. So I really feel that they are selfless.”

Meanwhile co-pilot Tat thanked the project’s sponsors for their support.

“In a nutshell, Inspiration will fly through 50 airports in 25 countries, covering 55,000km,” he said. “The total distance travelled will allow us to fly around earth for 1.4 times, taking us around three months. Our team is really grateful to the SAR government, especially for the help from HKCAD, who made this round the world journey possible.”

Cathay Pacific engineers have been working on the project since 2008, along with students from St Paul’s Convent School, representatives from Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (HAECO) and a horde of volunteers. The kit-built RV-8 single-engine aircraft recently completed 40 hours of flight tests in Kilcoy, Australia before returning to Hong Kong ahead of Sunday’s take-off event.

Volunteers from the Hong Kong Youth Aviation Academy will monitor the plane throughout its journey.

It was given a permit for the trip by the Civil Aviation Department despite officials initially expressing their doubts and reservations.

A Cathay Pacific spokesman said they hoped the mission would inspire Hongkongers to “dream big”.

“Hank Cheng has always maintained an adventurous heart, while bravely enduring all obstacles and taking on the daunting challenges in front of him,” he said. “With such a successful realisation of a childhood dream, he hopes to inspire the people of Hong Kong to dream big and work hard to achieve their goals.”