Round the world in home-made plane

Published November 5, 2016
HANK Cheng and co-pilot Thomas Ng Yu Ching (right) pictured soon after landing in Karachi on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
HANK Cheng and co-pilot Thomas Ng Yu Ching (right) pictured soon after landing in Karachi on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: It’s a bird, it’s a plane.... Well, it’s the Inspiration, a labour of love that took Hank Cheng eight years to build. On Friday afternoon, this small home-made plane on a landmark journey across the world landed in Karachi.

The kit-built RV-8 single-engine aircraft arrived in the city from Muscat. Hank, who happens to be a Boeing 777 pilot working with Cathay Pacific, said he really enjoyed Pakistan’s mountains and its coastline.

“We fly lower than commercial aircraft. We fly at 9,000ft from where the terrain is visible. It is my first time in Pakistan, an amazingly beautiful place. The mountains in Gwadar and Pasni and the beaches here are absolutely stunning,” he remarked.

On way back to Hong Kong, Hank Cheng’s plane lands in Karachi

Pakistan marks the tail-end of his journey as from here he will be heading to Colombo, followed by stopovers in Phuket and Chiang Mai, China, and then back to Hong Kong from where he started three months ago.

The Inspiration, registered as B-KOO, is the realisation of Hank’s boyhood dream of building an airworthy plane. “My daughter, Yui, is eight years old, as is my plane. I started working on it in 2008, the same year my daughter was born,” said Hank, making clear his fondness for the machine. It is his baby.

The aircraft, the first home-made plane built in Hong Kong, has been more of an educational project. The St Paul’s Convent School was where it was built. As a part of their extracurricular activities, pupils of the school came to help Hank with the project whenever they could. Technical expertise, too, was available when needed as was the help from the aviation industry.

“I built it from my personal savings though this trip was made possible by various sponsors including my airline that has supported me throughout,” Hank said.

The painting on the plane’s tail shows the mountain known as the Lion Rock in Hong Kong, which is associated with the can-do spirit. This spirit helped Hank during his long solo flight of 15 hours from Hawaii to San Francisco.

“It is light so the air turbulence is there. But I built it myself therefore I knew that the plane could take it. Usually when you are flying alone over long distances there is a danger of you falling asleep but the excitement kept me awake. Also, I knew that the success of this trip mattered. If the plane went down so would the hopes of the people following my progress,” he observed.

Hank wasn’t always alone during his journey. Cathay Pacific sent various other pilots to accompany him during the shorter flights. He was accompanied by Thomas Ng Yu Ching, another commercial Boeing 777 pilot, during his flight from Muscat to Karachi.

But Thomas then caught a commercial flight from Karachi to go back home as Hank’s next destination is Colombo, which is going to take him at least eight hours to reach. “I am going to use the co-pilot’s seat to place the extra fuel tank as I would be needing it like I did during my 15-hour, Hawaii-to-San Francisco flight,” he pointed out.

He said he was very careful about what he ate or drank during the journey. “I don’t want to get diarrhoea and there is no luxury of going to the bathroom in my plane; so I drink bottled water only and I only eat dry snacks such as potato crisps,” he laughed.

Hank’s initial flight plan included 25 countries with stops at 50 airports. “I planned a day’s rest at every stop but that hasn’t always been possible because the weather is unpredictable. So wherever I have been delayed by the weather, I sort of go with the flow by giving up a city in order to remain on schedule,” he said.

“I am supposed to complete the journey on Nov 13. After Pakistan we were going to Bangladesh but after learning of a tropical depression on the way, we have given up that plan to continue towards Colombo on Saturday morning,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2016



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