On July 11th, 2019, the 'One More Orbit' mission succeeded in breaking the polar circumnavigation speed record, clocking in at 46 hours, 40 minutes and 22 seconds pole-to-pole. The effort was completed onboard a Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER, and the record has yet to be beaten four years after it was set.

The venture - in partnership with Qatar Executive - was arranged to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and was live-streamed to aviation fans around the world. The pilot team consisted of Jacob Obe Bech, Jeremy Ascough and Yevgen Vasylenko, and the late Hamish Harding - also onboard were NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Qatar Executive engineer Benjamin Reuger, flight attendant Magdalena Starowicz, and live-stream engineer Jannicke Mikkelsen, the latter two becoming the first females to circumnavigate the poles.

Homage to Apollo 11

The crew departed Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, July 9th at 09:32 am local time, 50 years to the minute since Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin lifted off in Saturn V.

Apollo 11
Photo: DiegoMariottini/Shutterstock

Flight director and one of the four pilots onboard, Mr Harding, said,

"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. It is our way of paying tribute to the past, the present, and the future of space exploration."

The Route

One More Orbit was the coming together of entrepreneurs and adventurers, including Action Aviation head and renowned adventurer Hamish Harding, who unfortunately died during a submersible expedition to the wreck of the Titanic earlier this year.

All involved had the sole purpose of breaking the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the earth via both poles. The team chose the Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER, the fastest ultra-long-range business jet in the world, for their mission. The G650ER has a maximum speed of over 1130 km/h (0.91 mach) and a range of around 7,500NM.

The routing saw the jet takeoff from Kennedy Space Center, stopping at Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, then Port Louis, Mauritius, then Punta Arenas, Chile, before returning to Kennedy Space Center in 46 hours and 40 minutes. The segment between Mauritius and Chile was reportedly the most nerve-wracking, as it stretched the limits of the business jet's range.

The previous record for the highest average speed of the journey was set in 2008 by Swiss Captain Aziz Ojjeh. For his attempt, he flew a Bombardier Global XRS, which hit an average speed of 822.8 km/h. Overall, Ojjeh's journey took him 52 hours, 31 minutes and four seconds, beating the previous record set by Capt. Walter Mullikin in a Pan Am B747SP in 1977 of 54 hours, seven minutes and 12 seconds.

Hamish Harding and his team broke both records simultaneously. Along with smashing the journey time by almost six hours, the OMO trip managed an average speed of 860.95 km/h. Present at the landing was Mike Marcotte - the official adjudicator for Guinness World Records - with the attempt making it into the 2021 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.

The mission would go on to break another 11 records:

  • North Pole to South Pole – 22 hours, 7 minutes
  • Cape Canaveral to North Pole – 7 hours, 34 minutes
  • Cape Canaveral to Astana – 12 hours, 16 minutes
  • North Pole to Astana – 4 hours, 42 minutes
  • North Pole to Mauritius- 13 hours, 24 minutes
  • Astana to South Pole – 17 hours, 25 minutes
  • Mauritius to South Pole -8 hours, 43 minutes
  • Mauritius to Punta Arenas- 12 hours, 28 minutes
  • South Pole to Punta Arenas- 3 hours, 45 minutes
  • South Pole to Cape Canaveral – 14 hours, 45 minutes
  • Punta Arenas to Cape Canaveral – 11 hours

Qatar Executive

The largest operator of the G650ER is Qatar Executive, a subsidiary of Qatar Airways. As Simple Flying explored last month, QE's luxurious fleet includes fifteen Gulfstream G650ERs, two Bombardier Global 5000s, and two Airbus ACJs.

Qatar Gulfstream G650ER
Photo: InsectWorld/Shutterstock

The fastest of the fleet (and the fastest long-haul business jet in the world) is the G650ER. The type can travel 7,500 nautical miles at speeds of over 0.90 Mach. The jet is powered by two Rolls-Royce BR725 engines which deliver 16,900 lbs of thrust. It is capable of an operating ceiling of 51,000 feet.

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The landing

Landing at Kennedy Space Center on July 11th, the One More Orbit team successfully completed 22,422 miles of travel, crossing the equator twice. The route was divided into four sectors, with three refuel locations in Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Chile.

Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al Baker said of the mission,

Qatar Executive, together with the One More Orbit team, has made history. A mission like this takes a huge amount of planning as we need to factor in the flight paths, fuel stops, potential weather conditions and make plans for all possibilities.

Many people behind the scenes worked tirelessly to ensure this mission was a success and I am very proud that we broke the world record a first for Qatar Executive which will be certified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) and Guinness World Records.

The documentary

The mission was the subject of a 2020 documentary that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the daring undertaking. Viewership during the circumnavigation was also considerable, attracting over 55 million across social media, live-streaming and news features.

The first-ever pole-to-pole circumnavigation occurred in 1965 onboard a Flying Tiger Line Boeing 707 nicknamed 'Pole Cat'. There were around 40 individuals onboard that day, with the journey ultimately taking 62 hours and 27 minutes. So far, no one is planning on making a pole-to-pole attempt and beating the OMO journey, but as aviation technology improves in the coming decades, you never know.

Do you remember watching the 'One More Orbit' mission as it happened? Do you see anyone attempting to break the record again? Let us know in the comments.

Source: One More Orbit