Earth Rounder

It was 1988 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Phil Greth and his ’56 G-35 Bonanza had flown in and out of the city countless times. It was, in a word, familiar.

But that year, he would add places like Australia, Bali, Singapore and Egypt to his list of destinations. He would fly over foreign soil for the first time, his first time outside the United States. ‘It was my first flight over water, period,’ he says.’Outside of Lake Michigan.’

Greth and his friend Chuck Classen were about to fly around the world. The trip earned them a place in the record books: 20 days around the globe westbound in a Class C1-c aircraft. The record stands today.

They prepped for the trip by trudging through volumes of research. They readied the Bonanza by removing two of the four seats to make room for two 70-gallon fuel tanks.

With man and machine ready to go, Greth and Classen took off from Waukegan, IL.

In San Jose, CA., their first destination, they discovered the Bonanza was burning oil too fast. The problem was fixed by rigging a pump to send oil from a can directly into the engine. ‘I was more nervous before the trip occurred,’ Greth says. ‘But once we got things in shape in California, it got more relaxed.’ It was the only major mechanical problem they would face the entire trip.

They flew an average of 14 or 15 hours a day. No matter where they landed, they got up at 6 a.m. local time and took off on the next leg.

The days and the destinations clicked by: Honolulu, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands (‘We had been on the beach where the marines assaulted Guadalcanal.’).

They flew all the way around Australia to add miles (24,000 was the number to beat).

At the same time Greth and Classen were making their global voyage, tensions between Iraq and Iran were at a full boil. Greth says a military helicopter was by their side from the time they left the United Arab Emerites until they reached Saudi Arabia. ‘They didn’t want us to get shot down,’ he says.

But the fact that they could see a military helicopter at close range didn’t phase them. ‘We were so punchy by that time, we didn’t even notice.’

Cairo, Palma Majorca, the Azores and Newfoundland came and went. It was time to head for home. The Bonanza landed in Waukegan 20 days after that same airstrip gave them an ‘all clear’ to leave. Greth was 20 pounds lighter, but feeling good.

They now had their names attached to a ’round the world flight record.

Greth says after the trip, he endured a month of nightmares about the engine cutting out over water. He likens the experience to post traumatic stress syndrome.

He still flies the Bonanza and is also building a GlaStar.

A few dozen pilots who have circled the Earth will attend a gathering called Earth Rounders at this year’s Osh Kosh 2000. Greth will be there, too.

And he says, if the opportunity arises, he just may go around the world again.