Many people dream of having a grand adventure in life and seeing the world. Robert “Bob” Gannon has been lucky enough to have had many adventures around the world since he learned how to fly in 1992. Now, he likes to share all his stories with others, especially English as a Second Language classes, with students from many of the countries he visited.
After getting his instrument rating in 1992, he bought a Piper Cherokee 6, which he named Lucky Lady, and flew to Paris. He had 165 hours in his airplane log book. He traveled for four months through Europe and Africa before crashing in Nairobi, Kenya, when he was attempting to land. The plane was totaled, but he walked away unharmed. He had flown 295 hours and half way around the world.
He then spent the next eight years talking about finishing the trip, but never did. Finally, in September 2000, right before his 50th birthday, he decided the time was right to fulfill the dream. He bought a Cessna 182 and named her Lucky Lady Too. She proved to be lucky, indeed, and he spent the next ten years flying around the world.
He started by going west this time, instead of east. He left Oakland in October and flew to Kona, Hawaii. Three months later, he flew to the Christmas Islands and then on to the French Polynesian islands. He flew to as many countries as he could in the South Pacific before returning home.
Gannon continued to fly around the world. He would fly for one or two months, leave Lucky Lady in whatever country he was in and then take a commercial flight back to the United States. He did this not only to take care of business, and to plan the next part of his trip, but also for back surgery as he developed sciatica from sitting in one position for so long.
Since 1992, he has flown to 155 countries and laid claim to a world aviation record. He has flown east and west in both the northern and southern hemispheres, including Antarctica and the North Pole. It took him almost 20 years, but by 2010, he had officially flown around the world.
Along the way, he had numerous adventures. He confided that he was the oldest bachelor at the Emerald Bachelor and Spinster Ball in the Outback of Australia. He flew up through the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia to become the first Vietnam veteran (he had been a helicopter medic) to fly into Vietnam after the war. In addition, he flew to many countries in the Middle East. He flew on a medical mission into Basra, Iraq, to take medical supplies and toys for the newly constructed Basra Children’s Hospital.
One of his goals during his odyssey was to go to as many UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites as he could. He did just that when he traveled to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Uganda is one of the 36 out of 53 African countries that Gannon has visited. He went to see the famous mountain gorillas. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity, and the park is one of three sites where they can be found. The park is run by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, and they maintain strict control. Visitors have to go on guided treks of six to eight people. They allow only two treks a day with scouts, and everybody has to be healthy, so as to not endanger the gorillas. When Gannon’s scouts found the gorillas, the group had to stay back at least 8 to 10 feet. He said the feeling of being amongst the gorillas was a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience.
In southern Africa, he went to several places in the country of Namibia, including the Harnas Wildlife Foundation where he worked as a volunteer. This is a conservatory dedicated to saving and if possible rehabilitating the lives of wild animals in Africa. While there, Gannon saw lions, wild dogs, and baboons, and he made friends with a partially domesticated cheetah who took a liking to his plane, Lucky Lady Too.
Another of Gannon’s goals was to do as much charitable work as he could in his odyssey around the world. In Uganda, he also helped to build a special school and donated money to the cause. This school was for African children who were orphaned because both of their parents had died of AIDS. Gannon said that unfortunately, AIDS is very much a part of life in Africa.
In Kenya, Gannon wanted to try something different. All his life, he has enjoyed outdoor, physical activities, so he decided to enter the Maralal International Camel Derby in the amateur division. Having been raised on a farm, he had ridden horses before, but a camel was another story, especially a camel race! It was a 10-kilometer race. Gannon said that for just over one hour, he felt like his head was in a Martini shaker as the camels ran. He placed 17th out of 58 participants, and he was proud of that.
The ocean between Africa and South America is known as a dangerous place to fly. Imagine doing it in a tiny Cessna 182! He flew from the Cape Verde islands off the coast of Africa to Natal, Brazil. It was a harrowing flight.
Gannon had planned on a 15 ½ hour flight. However, it took him almost 18 hours. He encountered seven storms on the first half of the trip with heavy head winds. He tried to fly above, under, and around the storms, but finally gave up, and ended up flying directly into the last four. He was 70 miles from the halfway point, but had used up half of his fuel. Pilots call this the point of no return. He decided to proceed ahead, and he had better winds. He was 4 hours from an island off the coast of Brazil called Fernando de Noronha. He radioed ahead and let the female air traffic controller know what was going on. He did not have permission to land on this island, but because it was an emergency, they let him do it.
As the traffic controller guided him, she asked him what color his plane was. Gannon thought that she did this so he could invite her out to dinner later that night. The truth turned out to be much more sinister. She was worried they might have to look for floating wreckage later. He landed there in one piece, and then flew on to Natal, Brazil. He had 35 minutes of fuel left over.
Gannon traveled all over Brazil, and to every country in South America, as well as to Antarctica. He loved and found beauty wherever he went. One thing that impressed him, especially in Brazil, was how South America was truly a melting pot, and that racism or discrimination was less of a problem than in other places.
He was also impressed by the magnificent wildlife and beauty he saw everywhere. He was kissed by a baby vicuna in Bolivia. He stood among hundreds of Adelie penguins in Antarctica. He greeted the giant tortoises and blue footed boobies in the Galapagos. He went to the Iguascu waterfalls in the corner of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. He went all the way down the Amazon and across the Andes. He went to Machu Picchu in Peru and helped to fly medical supplies into Pisco. He got permission to fly around the famous statue in Rio, Christ the Redeemer.
He went to every country in South, Central and North America — including all 50 states of the USA — and said he loved the unique sites each offered.
How did he pay for all these trips throughout the years? First, he was one of 14 children from a farm in Iowa, so he is tough and resilient. He never married and has no children. He is independently wealthy and made his money by working for himself. He started and owned a construction company. He is a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and a member of the Lloyds of London insurance exchange in England. He is also a partner in a small wood manufacturing business in San Diego.
Gannon currently lives in Las Vegas, but plans on returning to San Diego one day. I was fortunate enough to meet him in 2011, and asked him to come and give a presentation to my English as a Second Language students at both Grossmont College and Mid-City Center. Now, he comes once a year to present to my students at Mid-City Center.
Gannon is a true American who is also a global citizen, and loves to meet our ESL students, and share his stories. Knowledge is power and the more we can learn about people from other countries through one man’s adventures, the better we will be.
Mimi Pollack is an English as a Second Language teacher at Grossmont College and a freelance writer.
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