89th AS pilot sets world record for flying across country

  • Published
  • By Stacy Vaughn
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When Lt. Col. Aaron Wilson, 89th Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III pilot, opened his mailbox in August and saw an envelope from the Guinness World Records, he knew his dream of setting a world record became a reality.

Wilson and his friend, Barry Behnfeldt, set out in June to break a world record in the category, “The fastest journey by plane through all 48 contiguous U.S. states (team).” After two months it was officially acknowledged that they broke the record.

Wilson said the idea about making the attempt began in January.

“This whole experience began when Barry heard about an attempt that two other pilots had made regarding this record,” Wilson said. “They started about three years ago and they made it thru 10 or so states but couldn’t finish the attempt. It got Barry’s wheels turning about making the attempt himself.”

Wilson said Behnfeldt did some research to see if it would be possible to make the attempt to fly to 48 states in less than 48 hours. His research led him to see it was possible.

“We both have briefly flown together with Delta [Airlines] and we had similar background stories and live close to each other,” Wilson said. “He reached out to me one day and asked if I wanted to do this and try and attempt this record with him. He gave a presentation describing everything then I was 100 percent on board.”

The plane they used for the endeavor was Behnfeldt’s Piper Saratoga, setting June 5-6 as the dates they would strive to meet their goal.

“I had never flown his airplane before,” Wilson said. “We did some practice flights so I was comfortable flying it.” 

The two men brought along an aircraft mechanic for the journey, Thomas Twiddy, a Navy veteran and friend of Barry’s who owns a maintenance shop, in case any mechanical issues came up with the plane. There were also coordinators on the ground to help facilitate any issues the team could face at each stop.

The team began their effort June 5, leaving out of Berrien Springs, Michigan.

“We planned it so by the time we got out West, it would be sunrise,” Wilson said. “We left Michigan by 10 p.m. so that by the time we got to Wyoming, where the mountains started, and made our way south down to California and back East through Nevada and Colorado, it would be daytime. The beauty of flying out West with the mountains was--it’s incredible. You’re 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the mountains in some areas. And other areas you’re below the mountains and flying next to them.”

The team built in six planned fuel stops for the whole trip but had to build in other stops in each state per Guinness rules to make the attempt legitimate.

“We had to land, get out and get a signature by a witness to prove that we were there,” Wilson explained. “Then, we had to take a picture with them signing the airplane. This was done all while engines were running because we were doing it for time too so we scheduled each stop for about eight minutes.”

Because they were only on the ground for a few minutes at each stop, they took turns flying. While one person was flying, the other could take a quick nap.

“We had a seat in the aircraft where we made a mini bed with a blackout curtain around it so we could lay down while one could catch a nap while the other was flying. That helped quite a bit,” he said.

The only time they had to shut down the engines was during the fueling process. The different stops tended to be a little longer because people would show up at the different airports wanting to talk with the team and take photos of the airplane.

“We were promoting the record attempt on our Facebook page for awhile and word spread what we were doing,” Wilson said. “As soon as we took off and began the record attempt, it seemed like each stop more and more people would show up.”

“By the time we got to Coffeyville, Kansas, it was probably about 11:30 at night; it was the second night,” Wilson added. “We pulled into Coffeyville and there were probably 50-60 people there just waiting for us. We didn’t know if we were going to stop or not but we saw all these people at the airport waiting for us, including kids. We gave out T-shirts and they wanted us to sign them and take pictures of the airplane. Perhaps during the attempt, we were inspiring younger generations. That was really rewarding to see that.”

The team completed their endeavor June 6, landing in Portland, Maine.

The goal was 48 states in 48 hours. They came up with a plan of 43 hours 31 minutes with room for setbacks. The Guinness World Records certificate says they accomplished it in one day, 20 hours and 13 minutes.

Besides setting a world record, the team also raised approximately $35,000 for Veterans Airlift Command, a nonprofit organization that offers free air transportation for wounded warriors, veterans and their families for medical and other compassionate purposes.

Wilson said his Air Force training and Barry’s Navy training kicked in and helped them prepare for the journey.

“As a kid, I always wanted to be in the Air Force and fly,” Wilson said. “Today, I’m a C-17 pilot for the Air Force Reserve, a pilot with Delta Airlines, and now I was part of a team setting a Guinness World Record.”

(No Federal endorsement intended)