Interview: Traveling around the world in a sport aircraft

After having dreamt of circumnavigating the world ever since childhood, obligations, work, family and other excuses have kept me from actually doing that so far. For many, buying a sailboat is a common way of starting on that adventure. But others have been creative and travelled by bus, bycicle or even on foot. 

Being a flying enthusiast, the obvious choice would be using a sports plane (LSA) or other small aircraft. But this must be impossible to pull off in todays world and cost you every last dime, right? - Well, partly. 

Colin Hales did so with his Rand KR2. Colin is an experienced world traveller, has background as a commercial pilot and has his own aviation maintenance company in the UK. He was so kind to let me share his experiences with you all here. 

You can reach Colin directly via his website

Happy reading, David.


The advice I have about flying small light aircraft around the world, may seem a little strange at first and the reason I’m slightly guarded and don’t publish it openly, is that unless you have some prior experience, it could be easily misunderstood. Also, of the twenty or so pilots I’ve spoken to with regards to round the world or long distance flights, only two ever set off. Most pilots simply won’t do it.

But this lack of long distance flights is often not because of the flying, it’s simply to do with the logistics of leaving home for many weeks, months, years. The flights are easy, the air is the same all around the world and so are the flight rules mostly, except obscure rules, which you won’t know or understand until you complete the flight. It’s all the rest of it, the rest is the difficult bit.

Long-distance travel with a small or light aircraft is relatively easy throughout Europe. Africa is possibly ok, the America’s quite ok, the Middle East is tricky, but Asia has recently become virtually impossible.

The situation is that the world is an ever changing place and what could be done last week now can’t be done and what couldn’t be done now can be.


I traveled through Asia in a KR2 about 20 years ago. Back then there was no internet, only fax machines, so communications and information gathering were difficult. Communication is so much easier now with everything online, but now the individual countries flight authorities who issue the flight permissions you will need, simply won’t communicate directly with you. 20 years ago they would charge a small fee for the flight permission. Now today, the authorities have simply handed flight permission issue to third party handling agents and they want to charge $8,000 per flight. So in Asia now, unless you have a massive budget, you just can’t do it. Japan wanted $8,000 per flight, The Philippines $4,000 and you need four flights to cross their country. $16,000 in total, and so it goes on.

So obviously some planning is needed, but not a lot and not having a deadline or time-frame is great, because nothing really can go to schedule unless you throw a lot of money into it also and nothing much goes to plan either, so don’t waste your time planning to great detail about flights and routes that may never happen.

You don’t really need a CPL. The experience you need for long distance flights around the world is not available in any type of flight training course, therefore your hours, how ever many or few, doesn’t really matter either.


With global politics changing so quickly, the pilots you need to talk to are the pilots who flew through where you want to go most recently. My knowledge is now three years old and pretty futile as it will all have changed since then.

To have an open mind in this ever changing world is the best advice I can give.

Indeed though some things never change. Human behaviour and attitudes especially. At each airport you land at, make friends with the guards, the refueler, the air traffic controllers and all the small people, even the cleaners. This is because they can help you and will help you and they hate their boss, the boss you will probably never meet. The small people can and will help, while the big people will just cause you problems, normally down a phone line from the middle of their golf round. So it’s the little people who are important or can be.

Have you noticed so far that most of the advice I give is simply about being a decent human? The flying is pretty irrelevant. It would be just as if you were flying in Norway. But then if you go to extremes, in Russia I needed to do big legs to cross Siberia. Often close to 1,000 Nm and 10 hour flights. The only difference there is if you fly for just a few hours, the weather doesn’t really have much time to change. It can do though! In Italy we took of from Rome in calm conditions and 20+ degrees, yet when we tried to land in Brindisi about 2 hours later, the wind was 24 knots gusting 36 and the temp down to 5 degrees C. That was a Fonn wind that was a local condition. In 10 hour flights the weather can change quite a lot and catch you out.

Most round the world flights, including mine go wrong because of flying into bad weather, either because of time or visa or permit constraints. Stupid. On my journey I unfortunately nearly came to serious grief, four times, before my engine failed and then I had a heavy landing on a golf course in Japan.

Of these four difficult flights three of the issues were due to flying into unexpectedly bad weather. So indeed, never be in a rush and check the weather time and time again, especially if the weather isn’t good to start with.


The last bit of advice and the best I can give is “Ask local pilots!” They know their country, their flying area, you certainly don’t. So ask advice of the local pilots. Many times I would chat and explain my route to air traffic controllers, who are often pilots or they hear all the scary stories from pilots from which you can gain knowledge from the experiences of others who have gone before you. Often, when I talked to the locals pilots, they would have good reasons not to do what I was trying to. They knew where there is fuel and where there isn’t, whatever the internet may say.

What there is no preparation for is the social media side of any journey. Mine flights were me, just doing my thing. Other round the world flights are all sponsorship and money and therefore they need the publicity for their sponsors or charities. I didn’t need any of that, but after 3 years of flying in my little plane I had become a bit of a celebrity and therefore was loosing control of my journey. I would be met by cameras and media everywhere I landed. So if I wanted to go and see things I wanted to see, people would meet me and take me to things they wanted to show me, so quickly I could loose control of my flights. 


Also people, whatever you do, you will upset them, so get used to it and don’t let it worry or affect you. For example, I didn’t really plan America I just got there and when I arrived I just kept going. I didn’t file the flight plans as I was apparently supposed to. Once in America, the American’s pretty much didn’t care and I went and flew where I liked. That’s fine you may think. But actually this upset some other British pilots flying out in America who were doing things by the book and having to file flight plans with the authorities every flight, with 48 hours notice of their flights. So they got upset and had a go at me because I wasn’t filing 48hour in advance flight plans or anything like that. They said things like, I was a rogue pilot and I would cause trouble for other pilots who might want to follow me. People used to argue over who was giving me a bed for the night, when what I wanted to do was just pitch my tent.

So as I said before, most of the advice I have given, is not about the flying, as indeed that is the easy bit. Once in a while I would get in my plane and fly for a few hours in peace and quiet to a new country, in an environment I enjoyed and understood. It’s only when I landed and taxied in and watched strangers walking out to greet me that I thought, “Oh no, here we go again!” You will need 3 times as long before and after each flight to prepare or close down the plane, just because you will be answering the same dumb questions you always get asked by lots of different people and you have to be nice and give them the same time as everyone else and a sensible answer.

I’ve obviously got loads of other stories that would give an insight into what you might expect, but nothing that will be relative to the flights you will do. Just always be humble. You are trying to fly here or there. The day you say “I am going to fly here!” is the day that you don’t. So many people say they are going to fly around the world and then fail. I have advised two groups who were going to send kids off to be the youngest to fly around the world. They never left home and are now too old to set a new record. I watched them spend so much time and effort and they never even set off.

Just have a rough idea about which way you want to go and set off and ask advice on the way and take flights one at a time. Don’t ever be in a rush if you can avoid it and also, try to enjoy it, as most times, its not that enjoyable. It costs a lot. I was always poor and not able to afford anything posh like hotels, or over 3 years, I’d have run out of money.



And the final thing I will say is, nothing is like what you may think it will be! The world media lies, everyone lies, especially American’s. In Nome Alaska, before flying into Russia, all the Americans said I would need to take US dollars into Russia as that is all they used there and to take small notes as they will never give you any change. So I took with me $1,500 in $5 or $10 dollar notes. When I got to Russia, they asked if I had any money, I said US dollars and they looked at me confused and said, well they are no use here and showed me where the cash machine was and I took out Rubbles.

Hope this helps.

Colin H.



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