Robert DeLaurentis with his aircraft. Image from video

San Diego resident Robert DeLaurentis, an aviator and former Navy officer, described his unique journey Wednesday after completing a nine-month circumnavigation from the South Pole to the North Pole to spread a message of peace.

The 26,000-mile trip took DeLaurentis to 22 countries and six continents and was originally intended to last just five months. COVID-19 changed his plans.

“When things get difficult, you’ve got to go back to fundamentals,” DeLaurentis told City News Service. “Fundamentally, we are all human. We have more in common than we do differences. That’s the way we move forward.”

DeLaurentis returned to San Diego this week. His flight between the only places on the planet that have never been at war — the poles — is part of a documentary series titled “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth and Beyond,” in which he interviewed residents of the different countries he visited, asking them what it means to be a citizen of the world.

“I took the biggest chance of my life with this Pole to Pole peace mission,” he said. “It was certainly the riskiest flight I ever set out on, with more opportunities for failure than I’d ever experienced. Add in a coronavirus pandemic that was not on the route schedule and having to navigate different countries’ lockdown policies and count on the goodwill of people whose language I didn’t speak was daunting at times.

“But I learned more about what it truly means to be a `citizen of the world’ and the power of peace — both inner peace and peace between people and countries — than I ever dreamed possible.”

DeLaurentis started his journey heading south down the Americas in his highly modified 1983 twin-engine aircraft, “Citizen of the World.” He took off from South America to loop around the South Pole in a harrowing 18- hour journey in which he lost communications and nearly had a military intervention by the Chilean Air Force before proceeding to Africa.

He stopped in South Africa and Kenya before heading to Georgia and on to Italy just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to rear its head in the country. Rather than quitting and returning home, DeLaurentis flew to Spain, which then quickly became an epicenter of the virus. He self-quarantined, but had to move three times, the first time from a monastery as he was not a monk.

Once Spain eased restrictions, he continued to Sweden, waiting another month for permission to fly back to the U.S. With the help of friends, he repaired a burst fuel tank and waited for the North Pole to warm so his plane’s fuel didn’t gel in the subzero temperatures. After several tense days waiting for permission to fly back into the United States, he was cleared to land in Alaska.

While flying over the North Pole, he encountered an unexpected loss of communication, loss of the two primary GPS units, the autopilot and the two altitude and heading reference systems for eight hours of the 11.5 hour flight and was forced to reroute his landing from Dead Horse, Alaska to Fairbanks, Alaska due to intense fog.

After testing negative for COVID-19 and leaving Alaska, he flew “Citizen of the World” to its final stopover in Seattle, which included a documentary interview with aviation innovator Erik Lindbergh, grandson of aviation legend Charles Lindbergh.

“There is a transformation unfolding in this time of uncertainty,” DeLaurentis said. “I’m optimistic and believe we are awakening to who we truly are. This is a time of rebirth and new beginnings for those who have felt trapped or stagnant. It is a global reset — not just on the planet, but in ourselves as well — and will bring us all together as one planet and one people.”

On his journey, he set several aviation records, including:

  • Successfully using biofuels over the North and South poles for the first time
  • Longest distance flown in a twin or single engine turboprop — 17.5 hours
  • First and fastest Polar circumnavigation of the planet in a twin or single engine turboprop
  • First testing for plastic microfibers across the globe including over the South and North poles
  • First testing of NASA Wafer Scale Spacecraft outside of Santa Barbara

— City News Service

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