Youngest person to circumnavigate by aircraft solo stops in Arlington

ARLINGTON — Jack Wiegand hopped out of his plane after landing Friday afternoon at Arlington Municipal Airport and greeted 30 people including several aunts, uncles and cousins.

“How is everyone?” Wiegand asked.

The 21-year-old pilot had a reason to be happy.

He is on the last legs of a trip that has taken him around the world. He is attempting to break the Guinness World Record for being the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the globe solo.

At this point, the new record title is pretty much all Wiegand’s. He flew out of Fresno, Calf., May 2 in his Mooney M-20 single-engine plane and headed east. Arlington is his last stop before returning home.

“I’m excited to get home because that means I have completed the record,” said Wiegand, who arrived in Arlington from Ketchikan, Alaska. “It will be nice to not have the stress-factor on me anymore.”

When he was 17, Wiegand learned about the Guinness World Record for the solo flight. With his love for aviation, Wiegand set his goal to break it and started doing research.

“I never did it for the title as much as I did it for the adventure,” Wiegand said. “I like to set ambitious goals for myself.”

A few years later, Wiegand’s hard work became a reality. Calling his project SOLO 2013, Wiegand solicited sponsorship from Fresno businesses to fund his trip.

“It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Wiegand said.

Wiegand’s travels have not been completely smooth, and there were certain challenges brought on by flying solo. The hardest part was the pure boredom, Wiegand said.

He had an iPod loaded with music, listened to an audiobook and even played games. But hours on hours of flight without anyone to talk to was trying.

And he ran into another problem: He forgot his passport early in the trip when he tried to enter Canada. (He had it sent overnight to Canada, and continued his flight). He also ran into bad weather and wind.

For nearly three weeks, Wiegand was stranded in Sapporo, Japan, because winds were not favorable and the weather changed. In order to get out, Wiegand eventually flew to Kushiro, another Japanese city, to make his final preparations for the Pacific Ocean crossing.

The flight across the Pacific from Kushiro to Dutch Harbor in Alaska took 11 hours, 40 minutes. It was the longest stretch of his trip.

“That was the flight I was dreading the most,” Wiegand said.

Wiegand flew out at 9 p.m. with only the moon to guide him until he watched the sun rise over the Pacific. Later in that flight, Wiegand described flying through snow in the dark, which was especially bizarre.

During his travels, Wiegand experienced the challenges that came with engaging different cultures. In Cairo, Wiegand was held on the runway for an hour before receiving his flight plan that was scribbled on the back of his payment envelope. Wiegand said the differences between the Western countries and the Middle East and India were incredible.

With his flight to Fresno today, Wiegand will break the record that was set just earlier this spring. James Anthony Tan completed his circumnavigation when he landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the age of 21 years and 344 days. His trip took 48 days, and he stopped in 19 countries.

Tan finished on May 14, just 12 days after Wiegand took off on his trip, according to a spokeswoman with the Guinness World Records.

Wiegand will be only 21 years and 7 days old if he reaches Fresno by today. He will have been in 12 countries and circumnavigated in 59 days.

Wiegand spent about $80,000 on his adventure, saying it wouldn’t have been possible without his sponsors. Wiegand took a semester off at the University of Colorado where he is majoring in business to prepare for the trip.

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, who is a pilot herself, learned about Wiegand’s journey a month ago.

“It is nice to see a young person like Jack take on an adventure like this,” Tolbert said. “I am sure the stories he has and the people he has met around the world will be of interest to all of us.”

Pilot Tim Mensonides was one of the well-wishers on the tarmac in Arlington on Friday. He flies single-engine planes like the one Wiegand flew around the world.

“I wish I could have done something like this,” said Mensonides, who works at the airport. “I love the fact that he’s coming back down through Arlington.”

Wiegand planned to stay overnight with his uncle and aunt, Mike and Sally Wiegand, before flying to Fresno today. He is scheduled to arrive at the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport at 5 p.m.

Wiegand is unsure of what his next aviation goal will be, but there will surely be something just as ambitious. For now, Wiegand is just excited to sleep in his own bed.

“I believe anyone can do anything they put their mind to,” Wiegand said.

Arielle Dreher: adreher@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3437.

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