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Hales’ farewell: A globe trotter heads home

By James Wynbrand

  • 20AVT-Hales’ Osh Return
    Colin Hales
July 19, 2015- Englishman Colin Hales is back at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, but this year he arrived in time to actually enjoy the gathering.

When he set out from Oxford, U.K., in his homebuilt KR-2 for last year’s fly-in, the first destination in his planned around-the-world flight, he didn’t arrive until the last day of the event. And once on the ground, he couldn’t even get out of his airplane, so overcome with emotion after the mechanical and weather issues that had delayed his arrival until just before the airspace closed for the day’s air show. A year later he still has to stop when recounting the tale, his eyes watering.

“If you build your own aircraft in Europe, it’s a dream to fly to Oshkosh,” he said. Hales had a video camera onboard to document his arrival. “I prepared a speech, but I couldn’t talk. I had tears of joy, really. It took me 42 days to get here, and I didn’t think I was going to make it.” But Hales could only savor the moment briefly.

“They said, ‘We really need you to get out of your plane so we can start the air show.’”

The 45-year-old Brit, a commercial pilot and aeronautical engineer by training and global wanderer by nature, started building his KR-2 (G-BYLP) in 1996 and completed the project in 2000. Here at the show it’s occupying a position of honor, in front of Homebuilt Headquarters.

“This aircraft was ideal, because it’s plans-built, so there are no expensive components, and it also allows the opportunity for innovation, and to modify [the design] to improve performance,” Hales said of his two-place, Jabiru 2.2-powered low wing.

The aircraft cruises at 120 mph, and the 20-gallon fuel tank provides about four hours of endurance plus reserves, just enough for hopping across the North Atlantic with stops in Iceland and Greenland. The trip to Oshkosh took a little more than 40 hours total flight time.

“I’ve been so busy that that momentous day has been placed in a box in the back of my head,” he said, “and the flight in today opened the box and it all came flooding back.”

In the intervening year, Hales has been to Dayton, the Reno National Air Races, Roswell, New Mexico (“It’s a weather balloon,” he says of the “UFO” that has made the town famous), Sun ’n Fun, the Bahamas, Kitty Hawk, and up the East Coast to Maine, “just absorbing as much culture and aviation heritage as I can.”

But one place Hales hadn’t planned to be was back here in Oshkosh.

“I should be in Alaska,” he said, alluding to the loose schedule he’s following to take advantage of seasonal weather in his VFR aircraft. “But knowing Oshkosh is on, and since I did miss most of it…I’ll catch up somehow.”

To finance his journey, Hales “saved for the last eight years,” sleeps in a tent or walks city streets all night, “watching the city wake up,” which he finds fascinating and illuminating. He’s also been helped by people he’s met along the way.

“When people see the plane is homebuilt, they want to be part of the journey, so I’m often looked over so well, sometimes I can forget where my wallet is, because I haven’t paid for anything in a few days,” he said. “It doesn’t have to cost the world to see the world.”

Yet Hales sees nothing heroic, or maybe even positive about his journey.

“It’s a very selfish thing I’m doing,” he said. “It affects the people back home. It’s been eight years of continual obsession with this journey. If for any reason I don’t make it around the world, these last eight to 10 years will not have been worthwhile,” he said. “This journey may be the worst decision of my life. I may regret doing this forever. And with that [thought] overhanging, it’s not always fun.”

According to schedule, Hales will be in Thailand this October and fly commercially back to the U.K. for the winter, before continuing his circumnavigation next spring, concluding at what he calls the U.K.’s version of Oshkosh, the LAA Sywell Rally, in September 2016.

For now, though, “I just want to slow down and look with wide eyes and absorb what I missed last year. When I was arriving, everyone was leaving, and that was sad,” Hales said, before brightening.

“They’re not leaving this time–I’m here with them.”
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