BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It may be the Mount Everest of aviation: a solo flight around the world in a single engine plane. If it sounds daunting today, imagine what it was like 50 years ago, before auto pilot and GPS navigation. For a young Louisiana doctor, it wasn’t enough to fly around the world. He wanted to break a world record.
Hypolite Landry rattles off foreign cities like an old time train conductor.
“Every day it scares me, 50 years later,” said Landry.
In May of 1969, man had yet to set foot on the moon, but the young doctor had already fallen in love with flight.
“I would just go everywhere. I’d go to my duck camp, every little airport, to Grand Isle,” Landry said.
To Landry, his Cessna was just another means to get from point A to point B.
“I would go hunting in the morning and fly back to see patients in the afternoon,” he said.
English actress, Sheila Scott, had just set the world record for a flight around the world. It took 26 days.
“After I bought the Bonanza, which is a real fast plane, I decided to see if I could break her record,” Landry said.
This was not an easy feat back then. The Bonanza had a range of about 800 miles, less than a third of the distance of the longest hops on a game of global leap-frog. He added fuel tanks inside the cabin to extend his range.
“It was a very complicated deal for the fuel. I had three tanks behind me and I had to move fuel from those three tanks, one at a time, to the tank in the wing,” Landry said.
He set out on May 12 to conquer the world, first from Baton Rouge to Bermuda, then a 9-hour flight across the Atlantic 11,000 feet in the air, 2,000 miles from help, with only a compass to guide him.
“And I would guess at the latitude and longitude, because I really didn’t know. How else did I have to know, except I knew how fast I was going and where I wanted to go,” said Landry.
From the Azores to Madrid, to Athens and Tehran, Landry stitched a thin, red ribbon halfway across the globe with only his thoughts and the occasional radio call from a passing military flight more than 20,000 feet above him.
“They’d say, ‘How many engines has that thing got?’ One. They’d come back, ‘One? What in the hell are you doing out here?’ I’d pick up my harmonica and play and they’d all laugh,” he said.
But the laughs were short-lived. Over New Delhi, Landry ran into not one, but two thunderstorms that he thought would end his trip.
“You think you’re going to die. You think that’s the end of it, because a little plane, it just flops you all around,” he said. “You just slow the plane down and hang on. I actually thought that my windshield was coming down in my face.”
But his troubles were just beginning. In the summer of 1969, war was still raging in Vietnam.
“I can’t understand what I was thinking that day,” Landry recalled.
With the skies over Malaysia thick with clouds, rather than risk another brush with a thunderstorm, Landry and his Bonanza made a mad dash across Viet Cong territory.
“The Viet Cong called me a couple of times. I just didn’t answer, but they could have popped me out of the sky,” Landry remembered. “Every day of my life i think about it.”
Then it was a couple of hops across the Pacific, San Francisco, and back home to a hero’s welcome. Twenty-three days after he left, he became the owner of a new round-the-world record.