- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

With a modernized version of the Wright brothers’ canard wing design, an amateur aviator from Gaithersburg plans to leave next week on a 28,000-mile flight to the North and South Poles in a tiny aircraft.

Gus McLeod, 49, hopes to be the first to make the flight in a single-engine plane. The father of three also wants to show that “there’s still magic in aviation,” and people don’t have to be professional pilots to achieve noteworthy aviation goals.

“I think if I do it, I’ll bring value to a lot of people who don’t see themselves in aviation and will see it can be a part of their life,” Mr. McLeod said yesterday.

Mr. McLeod, who made history April 17, 2000, as the first pilot ever to fly to the North Pole in an open-cockpit plane, planned the pole-to-pole trip to coincide with the 100th anniversary of powered flight.

He plans to leave Monday from College Park in a modified Velocity plane, a one-of-a-kind prototype called “the Firefly,” which he has received from Korean Aerospace.

“It flies like a little race car,” said Mr. McLeod, who owns a medical supply company. “It’s just a little rocket sled.”

The 18-foot white plane with red stripes has a forward canard wing configuration similar to one used by the Wright brothers. The plane also has a propeller in the rear.

“It’s sort of a real modern version of the Wrights’ airplane,” Mr. McLeod said, while standing by the plane, which still has Korean writing on its side.

“They told me the writing said ‘Korean Aerospace Research,’” Mr. McLeod said on a cold windy day at the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg. “It could say ‘This is one nut.’”

It has been a rough month for people attempting the feat.

Earlier this month, British pilot Polly Vacher gave up after having problems with strong winds and delays in getting fuel in Antarctica. Also this month, a man and woman had to be rescued after crashing a helicopter while trying to make the pole-to-pole flight.

“There’s something down there going on this year that’s really ugly, and I’m flying right into it,” Mr. McLeod said.

His wife, Mary, is concerned, he said. Recently, he overheard her and his 12-year-old daughter talking about what would happen — in case he didn’t make it.

“I just heard that conversation the other night and that rocks you where you live,” Mr. McLeod said. “I’m still trying to get over that.”

Although he has some worries about the trip, Mr. McLeod said second thoughts won’t keep him from flying, as long as he has good weather. He has been planning the trip for almost three years, and there have been plenty of hurdles to get to this point.

In January, his 1959 Beech aircraft was hit by a snowplow near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, forcing him to find another plane. Because he does not have a sponsor, Mr. McLeod has had to finance the trip himself.

With just days before his scheduled departure, he was still negotiating with a Chilean rescue team in case something goes awry en route to the South Pole. Their $60,000 fee is too much for the high-flying Mr. McLeod.

“We got to get it down, because if it’s $60,000 my wife is going to have to say: ‘Leave him.’” Mr. McLeod said.

He estimates the trip will take about two months, flying every day for eight to 10 hours, usually. One leg at the South Pole will require 27 hours of straight flying, a stretch Mr. McLeod refers to as his potential “Waterloo.”

But Mr. McLeod believes the conditions will be easier than the 13-hour push he made during his North Pole flight in an open cockpit because, unlike that open-cockpit plane, this one is enclosed and has autopilot.

“If I get through that, then I can back off and take it easy,” he said.

On the way, Mr. McLeod plans to stop in Florida to pick up extra fuel tanks before flying along the eastern coast of South America, making stops in Belem and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Ushuaia, Argentina. He is hoping to buy extra fuel that was stored for Mr. Vacher near the McMurdo-Scott base in Antarctica.

If he can, he plans to fly on to New Zealand before going up through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, through the Fiji Islands, to Hawaii, up to Alaska and up over the top and back down to the East Coast.

If he can’t get the fuel near McMurdo, he plans to fly over to Africa and over Europe en route to the North Pole.

Mr. McLeod said it has been fun planning to fulfill this dream. But after this, he said he doesn’t have plans for another polar flight.

“This is going to be my last one,” he said.

“It’s too stressful.”

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