INTERVIEW | ONE MORE ORBIT
Captain Hamish Harding, Action Aviation Chairman and Mission Director for ‘One More Orbit’ as well as one of the pilots on the mission, speaks about this record mission of circumnavigating the earth.
Business Aviation has been one of the most crucial sectors within the world of civil aviation and has been playing some of the following important roles:
July 2019 witnessed yet another milestone achieved by Business Aviation. A mission namely ‘One More Orbit’ had kickstarted commemorating the 50 years of Apollo 11 mission. This mission broke all the earlier round-the-world records of any aircraft, flying over the North and South poles in about 46 hours in a Qatar Executive’s Gulfstream G650ER. Such an achievement and the milestone has further enhanced the recognition and uplifted the contribution of Business Aviation.
SP’s Aviation (SP’s): What struck the idea for this mission – ‘one more orbit’ to achieve World Circumnavigation Speed Record and how & when did it all begin?
Captain Hamish Harding (Harding): One More Orbit had been a dream of mine for the past five years. I fly the Gulfstream G650 myself and I always thought that this was the right aircraft which could potentially break this record. By partnering with Qatar Executive and astronaut Terry Virts, we managed to finally bring that dream to a reality.
SP’s: It must have taken a lot to make all of this fall into place, would you like to share some of the key challenges?
Harding: Optimising the flight paths, fuel stops, potential weather conditions, making contingency plans for all possibilities and potential threats of failure, while live streaming and publicising the event, was a challenge that required the skills and talent of nearly 200 people across the planet for solutions.
It was a massive team effort from my staff at Action Aviation, our numerous sponsors and the One More Orbit supporters. The Qatar Executive team alone dedicated a team of nearly 100 employees to help ensure that our mission was a success. In addition to that we had the help of the teams from Space Florida and NASA, alongside Untitled Inc., which is producing the documentary about our mission.
SP’s: On what basis was the crew selected?
Harding: In partnering with Qatar Executive, we knew we would have an amazing team of pilots and crew at the mission’s disposal. They chose their three most experienced G650 captains and I was honoured to be the fourth captain. Qatar Executive also selected a flight attendant and an engineer who could support the team on the flight based on their extensive experience on G650s and who had the right personality to work as a tightly meshed team. The remaining team members, including former US astronaut Terry Virts and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, were selected as mission directors based on their compelling backgrounds with space flight and general experience in aviation. Our live stream operator, Jannicke Mikkelson was chosen for her background in technology and film, and her ability to ensure we were able to have live feed to share with our audience throughout the mission.
SP’s: And how were the stops finalised?
Harding: Our stops in Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Chile were chosen as the best geographic locations in the world to provide four as equal and direct as possible sectors around the planet, so as to save as much time as possible off the flight time in order to beat the world record.
SP’s: Can you elaborate on the name: ‘one more orbit’?
Harding: Our mission, titled One More Orbit, pays homage to the Apollo 11 moon landing achievement, by highlighting how humans push the boundaries of aeronautics. We did this during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the 500th anniversary of man first circling the planet. The Astronauts on board One More Orbit had in some cases gone round the earth in many thousands of space orbits – but this one extra orbit was rather special!
“Our mission, titled One More Orbit, pays homage to the Apollo 11 moon landing achievement, by highlighting how humans push the boundaries of aeronautics”
SP’s: Was there any point during the journey when the adrenaline rush went down? (Not due to fatigue but did some other challenge or a moment of doubt come up in the flight?)
Harding: It was a dazzling, but exhausting mission for all involved. However, the intensity of excitement and our drive to beat the record kept our adrenaline levels high for day after day of prep and the flight. We all tried to get a few critical hours of sleep, but the mission really needed our undivided attention, so I can’t say the rush ever went down. In the end we did not achieve much sleep during the 48 hour mission.
SP’s: Was the date deliberately chosen only as a tribute to Apollo 11? Did it ever cross your mind that Apollo 11’s 50 years celebrations might overpower this date for future as a major memory/celebration?
Harding: The date and record were set to be accomplished during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Apollo 11 moon landing, as a tribute to the past, present, and future of space exploration. We were not concerned with overshadowing from the historic Apollo 11 mission, with two well-known former astronauts on board, we wanted to commemorate the anniversary with our own tribute. We hope that our mission inspires others to do similar adventures.
SP’s: You talk about Apollo mission being a global celebration even though it was done by NASA. Why do you feel this (‘one more orbit’) is a global achievement or a global celebration?
Harding: NASA played a huge role in making this mission come to life, however, the One More Orbit mission wouldn’t have been possible without the leading sponsorship of Qatar Executive and Qatar Airways who are based in Doha, Qatar and fly daily all over the world. Because of our appreciation and respect for the Apollo 11 mission that made strides in history 50 years ago and originally launched from Kennedy Space Center, NASA and Space Florida reciprocated our excitement and passion for this mission and opened up their Shuttle Landing Facility runway for us to use for the start and finish of the world record attempt.
“This mission may have not had the same results without the incredible Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER. It had an incredible performance being the fastest long-range business jet in the world.”
It has become a global achievement due to how the mission utilised the skills of hundreds of talented technicians and teams across the world and that it is a testament to what can be achieved when we come together, even with harsh deadlines and time zone challenges. Our crew alone was from across the globe from Denmark, UK, South Africa, Ukraine, Sweden, Qatar, Australia, USA, etc.
SP’s: How do you think ‘one more orbit’ has pushed the boundaries of human ingenuity and aviation?
Harding: We established a new world record that had not been broken since 2008, and has only ever been held by three aircraft! In doing so, we utilised the best aircraft for the attempt and brought together an extraordinary range of people to solve the plethora of challenges such a mission involves.
SP’s: Was Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER business jet the obvious choice? Would you like to comment in detail, on G650ER?
Harding: This mission may have not had the same results without the incredible Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER. It had an incredible performance being the fastest long-range business jet in the world. With a speed of Mach 0.925 and a range of 7,500 nautical miles (14,000 km) the aircraft was ideal.
We rigged the aircraft with 10 cameras and loads of equipment to do a world-first, 48-hour livestream from the aircraft. This may not have been possible had we used a different aircraft without the latest “Ka-Band” broadband Internet.
SP’s: How much percentage of the mission’s success was dependent on the aircraft, according to you?
Harding: 50 per cent the aircraft, 25 per cent the planning and mission control and 25 per cent the team on board.
SP’s: What do you think this mission says about the hidden capabilities in business aviation sector?
Harding: This mission proves that circumnavigating the planet in comfort and at great speed is possible. And we really had no technical problems with the aircraft in 42,000 km of maximum speed flying over 48 hours.
We reduced our carbon emission to negative. Not even just neutral. The Carbon Underground has taught us that the only way we can address the problem of global warming is to heal the planet’s topsoil. In doing so we can ultimately REVERSE the problems of climate change.
SP’s: What has been the role of F-104 Starfighter during this mission?
Harding: The Gulfstream’s descent was caught on film by a chase plane, the F-104. The Starfighter, with a camera person in the back seat filmed our descent from 25,000 ft to the landing: the supersonic F104 Starfighter was one of the few planes fast enough to intercept us in the air and then to keep up with us in a max speed descent. The camera footage of the descent is now being used in a Hollywood documentary movie on the mission.
SP’s: How did you manage a video call from the aircraft, and also the live streaming?
Harding: The logistics of pulling this mission off, from a global broadcast standpoint, are outstanding. A worldwide network of production talent and sponsors made this possible as a global live streaming event and documentary. With the help of Satcom Direct and Inmarsat, for providing the satellite bandwidth and live feed from the aircraft; G-Technology; Action Aviation; LiveU encoders, and Space Florida. Our in-flight Live Stream Operator, Jannicke Mikkelsen, played a massive role in how we were able to achieve such tremendous feat of being the first in-flight live stream feed from all round the earth.
SP’s: There was a tie up with Carbon underground as well to make the mission carbon negative. How that was made possible?
Harding: We wanted to demonstrate how businesses, including airlines and corporations that own, lease or charter business jets, can contribute to the reduction of their respective carbon footprints. In order to achieve this in our mission, we calculated the amount of fuel that the flight would burn and the amount of carbon emissions that would be released, then calculated how much topsoil would be needed to counteract that carbon impact in order to offset. We then made a contribution to The Carbon Underground in an amount large enough to more than cover the cost of treating that amount of topsoil making our mission not just carbon neutral but carbon negative.
SP’s: Indicate on the levels of reduction of emission that was achieved during this intense mission?
Harding: We reduced our carbon emission to negative. Not even just neutral. The Carbon Underground has taught us that the only way we can address the problem of global warming is to heal the planet’s topsoil. In doing so we can ultimately REVERSE the problems of climate change. Please see www.thecarbonunderground. com for more information about the way forward:
“Extensive scientific research from around the world has emerged in the past few years showing us the impact that soil health has on climate change. We are now learning how soil organic matter greatly affects the entire carbon cycle, and that how we manage farms, ranches, and natural wetlands and grasslands may provide the key to solving the greatest threat facing the planet.” — The Carbon Underground.
SP’s: Why do you feel that ‘one more orbit’ mission will also inspire young generation?
Harding: We want this flight to inspire the younger generation to be willing to dream big. Children from around the world were watching us flying a fast jet and, hopefully, they realised it’s possible to do amazing things just from an idea I had 5 years ago.
SP’s: How does it feel to have broken two major records simultaneously and having received so many awards as recognition and appreciation? Has the feeling sunk in yet?
Harding: I’m still absorbing the thrill of having made this accomplishment. It’s been such a whirlwind; I haven’t really had time yet to sit and smell the roses!
SP’s: Do you have any more of such exciting missions planned ahead?
Harding: At this current time, I am hatching a plan that involves creating a new aviation world record involving Antarctica. I can’t say anything much about it yet, as the plans must remain confidential for the time being.
For now, though, I am going to embrace and relish the joy we’ve created in accomplishing our amazing feat. I look forward to sharing a more in-depth showing of how we made this mission flourish into a reality with our One More Orbit documentary that is currently in post-production.