Molly McMillin Aviation Week
Learjet 36A Crew Departs Wichita For Record Round-The-World Flight
April 4, 2024
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  • Founder of air ambulance provider Global Jetcare, Bart Gray, alongside three additional pilots and an observer, took to the skies in a Learjet 36A at 11:49 p.m. CDT on April 3, departing Wichita for the start of a 60-hr., 11-stop, round-the-world record-setting flight flying westbound.

    The flight, called the Century Mission, commemorates the first-ever round-the world flight 100 years ago—“and the men who set the bar for all future aerial circumnavigators,” Gray says.

    Gray spent departure day conducting briefings, buying food, loading the aircraft, weighing it all and working down 38 items on his mission checklist.

    “I’ve got all of them done—except one,” Gray told Aviation Week Network before the flight.

    “The last one is to get on [the aircraft] and go,” he said outside of the former Bombardier Learjet delivery center at the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.

    After months of planning, it was time to pose for photos, board the aircraft, go through the checklist, start the engines and taxi to the runway. A few minutes later, the Learjet came into sight, flying over buildings at the Bombardier facility on its way to its first stop in California.

    After an expected 60-hr. mission, which includes 54.5 flight hours, they are expected to return to Wichita at about the same time the crew of the first round-the-world flight would have taken off on April 6, 1924.

    The journey is a fundraiser for the restoration to flying condition of a historic Lear Jet Model 23, Serial 23-003 owned by Wichita-based Classic Lear Jet Foundation. The 1964 Lear Jet 23 was the first Lear Jet to be delivered to a customer.

    It was fitting that the flight begins and ends in Wichita and the spot where the Lear Jet 23 was originally manufactured 60 years ago, Gray says.

    After takeoff, the crew was headed to Salinas, California, with planned stops in Kona, Hawaii; Marjuro in the Marshall Islands; Palau; Singapore; Hyderabad, India; Dubai; Alexandria, Egypt; Olbia, Italy; the Azores; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and back to Wichita.

    Flying westbound is more difficult than east because they will be flying into a headwind instead of having a tailwind. However, there is no record for the westbound route, Gray notes.

    At each stop, “I would be tickled to death if we can do 45 min. on the ground,” Gray says. “Some stops will be easy, and I expect 20 or 30 min., and other stops I expect a little longer—through Singapore, India—where it takes a little bit more coordination.”

    The aircraft has been equipped with a bed for crew rest. It also has onboard spare parts, such as a starter, generator, voltage regulator and gyros, which could be switched out quickly, if necessary, says Joel Weber, the flight’s observer and an FAA Designated Airworthiness Representative.

    Each pilot will fly 5-hr. shifts. Gray is joined by John Bone, a flight instructor and adventure pilot, as well as Global Jetcare pilots Joshua Podlich and Kirby Ezelle, and Weber.

    The longest flight legs will be three back-to-back legs of 5 hr. 45 min. each, Gray says. The aircraft’s range is 2,500 nm (2,877 mi.).

    The biggest challenge to date has been securing the needed permits and planning all the stops to “get everybody on board in India and Egypt” and elsewhere, Gray says.

    “In my business, we do worldwide air ambulance,” he says of Global Jetcare, based in Brooksville, Florida. “So, nine of the 11 stops we’re going to make, I know someone personally there that we’ve worked with in the past. They’re all excited about this. But it’s still been a lot of coordination.”

    For example, they would inform personnel at one stop of a particular expected arrival time, only for them to say that another time is better because they will have the personnel to serve them faster.

    “Well, that backs up six stops,” Gray says. “Then you’ve got to go back to the other six people … And they say, ‘No, we can’t do that because we have flight training during that time.’ So, this schedule has adjusted from leaving at 8 a.m. to leaving at 5 a.m. to leaving at 10 a.m. to now leaving at midnight to make all of these stops at these different parts of the world happen at the exact time that is convenient for them to make a quick turn for us.”

    Despite challenges, the aircraft is expected to return about the same time as when the historic crew departed 100 years ago on April 6, 1924, for the first found-the-world flight. On that date, eight U.S. Army Air Service pilots left to circumvent the globe in four modified DT-2 torpedo bombers. They departed from Seattle and flew west. The pilots completed the journey 74 stops and 175 days later.

    Gray was inspired to make the flight after reading a book by author Lowell Thomas describing it. April 6 is also Gray’s birthday.

    To track the flight, go to