Peter Wilson and Matthew Gallagher are traveling the world in a small red helicopter hoping to draw attention to efforts to combat global poverty.
The Three Journeys Round project, started by Mr. Wilson, took two years of planning before an initial solo journey around Africa in 2016. Mr. Gallagher signed on to assist Mr. Wilson with the navigation around the globe. The final trip of the project will involve flying around Latin America in 2018.
Mr. Gallagher, an Englishman who lived in Cayman for nine years, gave Mr. Wilson the idea of stopping briefly on Grand Cayman and then flying to Cuba before beginning the final leg of the journey to London.
Mr. Wilson will travel more than 67,000 miles through 41 countries while spreading his message. The two pilots, who are three-quarters of the way through their journey, left Cayman on Wednesday.
“When I was lucky enough to retire and sell my businesses, I wanted to travel,” said Mr. Wilson, an engineer by trade. “Helicopter flying was a hobby I had done for 20 years on the weekends. I was an instructor; people were paying me to fly a helicopter. I met some folks serendipitously and thought I’d do long-range flying, and then I looked for my cause. I was already into raising money for charities.”
Mr. Wilson’s journey will benefit Save The Children, which works on behalf of children’s rights in 120 countries, and Motivation, which provides mobility solutions for disabled people living in the developing world.
At the end of the journey, he hopes to write a book about what he has learned.
The journey, styled as the first equatorial antipodal circumnavigation of the world by helicopter, began in London and wound east over the Mediterranean. The pilots flew over Egypt and Saudi Arabia and then Pakistan and India before heading southward over Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Arching northwards, the chopper flew over the Philippines, Japan and Russia before crossing over Alaska and British Columbia, Canada, and then flying down the western part of the United States. They looped around Central America, Colombia and Venezuela before coming to a brief stop in Cayman.
The pair have visited orphanages in several countries and have participated in programs through Save the Children designed to educate children of lesser means.
“I was brought to tears,” said Mr. Gallagher. “These kids in Bangladesh, they’re so happy. They have nothing. We turned up and they were throwing rose petals. It was fantastic. In Haiti, we went to an orphanage. It was a small one, for 10 to 12 kids, and they had just had a new swing-set built.
“The kids were just fantastic. They had big, bright smiles. You go out and you see the streets, and it’s just rubble. You sit there and you think, ‘What happens if these kids don’t get adopted? What happens when they turn 18?’ You hope they’re getting an education in order to be able to live a productive life.”
The pilots will fly up the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and over Canada before flying over Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands on their way back to Scotland and London. They will have traveled more than 30,000 miles and used more than 12,000 pounds of jet fuel in their journey.
Along the way, they have learned about the intricacies of acquiring permits to land in dozens of countries and flying in different kinds of airspace. Almost everything has been smooth, said Mr. Wilson, except for a brief delay while requesting a permit to enter Colombia.
Almost all of their communication with air traffic controllers has been in English, and Mr. Wilson said that Russian controllers helped ease their flight over the barren Kamchatka peninsula.
“Russia was the only country that actually helped us go into airports where there was no English spoken,” he said. “They were very friendly on the ground, but the controller would say, ‘I’ve spoken to them on the ground and they’re ready to receive you.’ These aren’t busy airports. Accents are the hardest thing. They’re telling you, ‘Fly to this point,’ that isn’t on any map and we’re not familiar with. That’s the challenge. We understand what they want us to do, but we have no idea where it is.”
And if navigating the world and its dizzying variations of cultures, religions and languages is not difficult enough, the duo hope to help chart a path toward ending global poverty. Mr. Wilson, who is chronicling the trip on Facebook and at www.threejourneysround.com, believes there are jobs waiting for people in developing countries and profits for the people who bring responsible commerce there.
Eventually, he hopes that the only arithmetic needed will be in getting people to realize it’s in their collective interests to work toward a common goal. “I’m an engineer,” he said. “As long as a problem is stated and visible, someone will say, ‘That’s a problem we can solve.’ If we say, ‘What we need is a solution to poverty,’ let’s work on it.
“We are both individuals who are optimists and realists. Practical optimists. The argument for being that type of optimist is judo. I can’t lift you up. You’re bigger than me. But I can see the way you move and I can help you go in a direction. I can use your momentum and help you go. We’ve seen so many young people – bright, young faces that are four, five and six years old – that know nothing better. If they had half a chance, they’d self-determine and they’d survive. They’d make a career.