HUMAN INTEREST: World tour the Wright way – the wanderlust bug and no check-in baggage ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY MRINALINI SHARMA
Siliguri, Oct. 15: The Wright brothers invented the aircraft in 1903 and more than 100 years later a British couple are following in their footsteps: globe-trotting in their self-made aeroplane.
Sheer wanderlust and thirst for adventure spurred Patrick Elliot, a former pilot with the British Airways, and wife Linda Walker to embark on this journey on September 11 in the Rutan-Long-Ez that took exactly 16 years and two weeks to construct.
“I always wanted to own an aircraft but to buy one was not possible. The only way to own a plane was to build one myself. So armed with a guidebook which I thoroughly read, the building process began in 1991. Initially, I thought it would take me just four years but that was extended to exactly 16 years and two weeks. Linda and her father occasionally helped me but I built almost every part of the aircraft and it cost me around £30,000,” Patrick told The Telegraph at the Bagdogra airport this morning.
“My intention was to build an efficient and fast aircraft that can fly long distances but had never thought at that point that I would embark on this journey,” he added.
The aircraft, an American model of the 1970’s designed by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, is a combination of blue and white and weighs 748kg. It has a wingspan of 9 metres and a length of 7.5 metres. The aircraft holds space for two seats in tandem configuration, that is, one seat behind another.
The first flight was a short trip of Europe on May 9, 2007 right after the aircraft was completed.
“We have had some trips after that but they were limited to a few European countries and of short duration of around four hours. I had a plan to sail around the world but since I already had an aircraft and knew how to fly, we decided to take on this adventure together,” said the pilot who flew for 31 years before he retired in March 2009.
Having started from Dunsfold airport in Surrey County, the couple have covered France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Pakistan and India so far.
After a three-day stay at Kurseong, they flew to Calcutta today and will leave for Dhaka later in the day.
“We have broken the journey into smaller sections. In between we take breaks to visit the UK for a few days leaving the aircraft at the airport where we have halted. The first leg of the journey covered Europe and the Middle East. The longest flight in the trip was when we travelled from Saudi Arabia to the UAE, which took eight hours. There were problems in getting permissions at several airports but have been managing quite well. At some places we halt for stay but at others to refill our fuel,” Patrick said.
The couple, who arrived in India on October 2, recounted pleasant trips of Ahmedabad, Udaipur, Agra, Delhi, Varanasi and Patna but said they had developed a special fondness for Kurseong.
“It’s our first visit to the Darjeeling hills and the Himalayas are lovely. As we neared the Bagdogra Airport from Patna, the air suddenly grew clearer and much greenery was visible. It was a spectacular scene,” said Linda.
“What amazed me about Kurseong is that despite being located at just 4864 feet, the uphill rise is so steep. My only regret is not being able to visit a tea plantation because they were all closed for festivals,” Patrick added.
Seated in the hind seat of the aircraft, Linda’s duty is to be on the lookout for other aircrafts, taking photos and jotting notes. The latter part of the couple’s itinerary has Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
“We will carry on as long as our resources permit us,” Patrick said. Asked if they had encountered any glitches, Linda said: “So far no…touchwood…We have a teddy bear that we carry as a lucky mascot.”