Pilot becomes first Hongkonger to fly around the world in a homemade plane

Cathay Pacific airman returns Sunday after three-month 49,650km journey

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 11:55am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 11:09pm

Hong Kong’s first homemade plane to fly around the world arrived home Sunday morning after a whirlwind three-month trip that the pilot hopes will be a source of pride for the city.

Cathay Pacific Airways pilot Hank Cheng was greeted by family, friends and fans at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday morning following his epic 49,650km journey, which began on August 28 this year.

The father of two and Hong Kong native flew across a cloudy Victoria Harbour before reaching his final destination in an historic event broadcast live to hundreds of people on Facebook.

Viewers expressed their delight as they watched the final descent of the plane named B-KOO Inspiration.

‘Inspiration’ in the skies: first Hong Kong-made plane prepares for epic world tour

Eric Tam wrote: “Welcome home Hank and Inspiration!”

Stone Lee said: “We’ve been missing you!”

And Winnie Leung posted: “This live [broadcast] is wonderful!”

At times Cheng, inspired to embark on the trip by a team in the US, was forced to alter his flight path as he faced difficult weather conditions including chilly winds, heavy snow and typhoons, a project spokeswoman said.

He flew most of the trip solo but was joined for some stretches by friends and family, including his wife. Along the way, he touched down at 45 airports in 20 countries.

Speaking to the Post before he landed on Sunday, Cheng said he hoped his achievement would “put Hong Kong on the map”.

“There are Hong Kong climbers who have climbed Mount Everest,” he said. “I wanted to put the Hong Kong flag on the map, so this is a source of pride for Hong Kong.”

Homeward bound: Hong Kong home-made plane’s incredible round-the-world journey

Cheng said the “most exciting” leg of his expedition was from Hilo, Hawaii, to San Jose, California, a 3,800km journey across the Pacific Ocean that took 14 hours 37 minutes to complete.

He said he recorded his thoughts about the trip daily in order to keep himself focussed and document his accomplishments.

Cheng said he was especially thrilled to fly a small aircraft. “I haven’t had the chance to fly a little aeroplane since joining Cathay,” he said. “It’s quite different from flying a big guy.”

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

Another highlight of the experience was sitting in a plane that he built. “I brought together all the hopes and dreams of [my] team,” he said. “It started as a personal project, but it became a bigger group and I was just the guy flying the plane, taking their hopes around the world.”

Reflecting on his journey, Cheng said he would have appreciated a “faster plane” but said he had “enjoyed every part” of the experience. He added the trip had taught him about how he handles stress, particularly challenges he had “never been exposed to before”.

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It took Cheng seven years to develop and build the aircraft. The project was a collaboration between Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company and St Paul’s Convent School.

Schoolchildren were among the 500 people who helped to construct the kit-built RV-8 single-engine aircraft designed by Van’s Aircraft Incorporated.

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

Cathay Pacific Airways Engineering Director Christopher Gibbs joined Cheng for part of the trip from Jordan to Bahrain, flying over Qatar, the Persian Gulf and the Oman desert to Muscat.

“The desert scenery was stunning. No tall sand, as you might expect, but with rocky mountains rising up to 5,000 feet,” Gibbs said.

B-KOO Inspiration joins a list of 14 amateur-built planes to have flown around the world, according to international aviation society Earthrounders.