Hamish Harding, Terry Virts and Qatar Executive Smash World Circumnavigation Speed Record

July 15, 2019
Mission Accomplished: One More Orbit beats Pole to Pole World Circumnavigation Speed record by 5 hours and 52 minutes.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL –– At 12:12 UTC on July 11, 2019, Action Aviation Chairman Hamish Harding, Astronaut Terry Virts and Qatar Executive made history.

They achieved it by completing the fastest ever Circumnavigation of the Earth via both the North and South Poles in a time of 46 hours and 40 minutes, at an average speed of 465 knots (or 535 mph or 861 km/h). 

The world record attempt, achieved in a Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER aircraft, was called One More Orbit (www.onemoreorbit.com) in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) average speed record stood for 11 years held by Captain Aziz Ojjeh in a Bombardier Global XRS from 2008. Ojjeh completed the polar circumnavigation in 52 hours and 32 minutes, at an average ground speed of 444 knots (or 511 mph or 822 km/h). He did not claim the GUINNESS WORLD RECORD™ for his achievement, but would have qualified for both.

According to GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™, the fastest aerial circumnavigation of the Earth via both geographical poles was achieved by Captain Walter Mullikin 42 years ago in a Pan Am Boeing 747SP in 1977 in 54 hours and 7 minutes, at an average speed of 423 knots (or 486 mph or 783 km/h). He started and ended in San Francisco, stopping in South Africa and New Zealand.

One More Orbit broke both the FAI and GUINNESS WORLD RECORD™ simultaneously in its mission, which began at 09:32 EDT on July 9, 2019 from the NASA Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. The flight, using a Gulfstream G650ER aircraft registered A7-CGD, callsign One More Orbit, beat the previous record (from 2008) by 5 hours and 52 minutes. 

Speed refuels were achieved in Nur-sultan, Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Punta Arenas, Chile. The total distance covered was 24,962 miles (or 40,172 km).

“The new record, which I am presenting to the FAI, for the fastest aerial circumnavigation of the Earth via both geographical poles is now 46 hours 40 mins, achieved by Captain Hamish Harding (UK) and Qatar Executive (Qatar) on 11 July 2019,” says Kris Maynard, official representative of the FAI and the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom.

In addition, Maynard said Harding and Qatar Executive will be claiming 12 more Speed Over Recognized Course record claims*, including the fastest time ever achieved from the North Pole to South Pole, which took 23 hours and 30 minutes.

Mike Marcotte of GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ presented the team with the record.

“A dream, a team, a machine, a new world record,” said Virts at the celebratory reception that followed the landing. “We could not have done this without the great support of Qatar Executive, Space Florida, Untitled and NASA.

The One More Orbit crew and families celebrated the historic moment in a NASA building near the landing site. In attendance were the eight circumnavigators:

  • Hamish Harding, (pilot) Chairman, Action Aviation of England, his wife Linda Harding and son Giles Harding.
  • Jacob Bech, (pilot) and Mathilde Bech, Laura Bech, Mikala Bech of Denmark.
  • Jeremy Ascough (pilot) and wife Magdalena of South Africa.
  • Yevgen Vasylenko (pilot) of Ukraine.
  • Magdalena Starowicz (flight attendant) of Poland.
  • Benjamin Rueger (lead engineer) of Germany.
  • Jannicke Mikkelson (Payload Specialist, Satellite live-streaming) of Norway.
  • Colonel Terry Virts (former Commander of the International Space Station) of the United States.

To their great surprise at the post-landing event, Mikkelson and Starowicz were identified by the FAI adjudicator as the first women in history to complete the polar circumnavigation of the earth.

Furthering the international cooperation, Russian cosmonaut, Colonel Gennady Padalka, record holder for the most days in space by any human (879 days), joined the One More Orbit crew in Nursultan, Kazakhstan and got off again in Mauritius for a short beach holiday.

Also attending were: Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker; NASA’s John Graves; Space Florida's Jimmy Moffatt, Sara Shell and Gail Bailey; executive producer Jim Evans of Untitled; Catherine Rost and Dylan Rodrigues of Satcom Direct; a number of Qatar Executive's support staff; and the entire production crew that is making a documentary about the One More Orbit mission. Staff from Space Florida's Shuttle Landing Facility also attended, along with various NASA staff who stopped by for the celebrations.

Al Baker said: “Qatar Executive, together with the One More Orbit team, has made history. A mission like this takes a huge amount of operational planning as we need to optimize the flight paths, fuel stops, potential weather conditions and make contingency plans for all possibilities. Many people behind the scenes worked tirelessly to ensure this mission was a success and I am very proud that we broke the world record – a new first for Qatar Executive”

Qatar Executive, owned by Qatar Airways, is the world’s largest owner-operator of the Gulfstream G650ER aircraft; the fastest ultra-long range business jet in the industry. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, and has a range of 7500 nautical miles and a maximum speed of Mach 0.925, flying at altitudes up to 51,000 feet.

One More Orbit pays homage to the Apollo 11 moon landing achievement, by highlighting how humans push the boundaries of aeronautics,” says Harding. “We did this during the 50th anniversary celebrations and the 500th anniversary of man first circling the planet, which Magellan did by sailing ship. It is our way of paying tribute to the past, the present, and the future of space exploration.”

“The mission utilized the skills of hundreds of talented technicians across the planet and is a testament to what can be achieved when we pull together, even with crazy deadlines and time zone challenges,” says Untitled executive producer Jim Evans. “Our production crew covered all the location action in Florida, Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Chile for the documentary aspect of this project.”

Virts, a Space Shuttle pilot, former Commander of the International Space Station and filmmaker known for his work on the IMAX film, A Beautiful Planet, is chronicling the complex preparations and global effort it took to achieve the record. “We’re making a documentary about the mission, which we will share with audiences worldwide in the near future,” says Virts.

The crew established radio contact with Benjamin Eberhardt who is over-wintering in Antarctica: “While talking to you as you flew overhead the South Pole, my camera was on the roof … looking for you,” wrote Eberhardt later. “The weather wasn't great, but your lights were bright enough to shine through a thin layer of clouds right overhead, along with the Southern Cross and Pointer Stars. Thanks again for calling us, Hamish. It was a nice surprise communicating with a plane for the first time after five months and hearing some stories of your adventures. I hope it did not get too cold for you over Antarctica … congratulations for the new record!”

"Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, says: “I am delighted that, as Inmarsat celebrates 40 years of innovation and chartering new digital frontiers, we have this amazing opportunity to support the 50th celebration of one of the space industry’s most momentous events; the Apollo 11 moon landing. I believe that bold endeavors like One More Orbit offer a moment for self-reflection.

They remind us to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in our day-to-day lives as we too keep pushing the boundaries of what our satellite communications can do to connect the world to a better future.”

"The Carbon Underground is proud to be a partner of this historic mission by making the mission carbon negative,” says Larry Kopald, the company’s co-founder and president. “By calling attention to one of humankind’s greatest efforts we remind ourselves of what we are capable of doing. Alleviating the existential threat of climate change by restoring the carbon balance and cycle will take a similar effort, with a similar commitment to speed.”

The One More Orbit team thanks its sponsors Inmarsat and Satcom Direct for providing the satellite beam and live feed bandwidth for the aircraft; G-Technology recording media and hard dries (Michael Gitig); Action Aviation for mission logistics and the original idea; LiveU encoders, and Space Florida. Carbon Underground brings the means to make this mission carbon negative. Additionally, One More Orbit is grateful to: Canon for lenses and cameras (Len Musmeci, Tim Smith); Really Right Stuff for camera support (Verent Chan); and Convergent Design for live stream support (Dan Keaton).

Link to landing and celebration footage: Courtesy of Untitled and One More Orbit