On August 9, 2003, an airplane named the Spirit of Butts Farm took off from Cape Spear in Newfoundland, Canada, on its way to Clifden, Ireland. In the world of modern aviation, such a transatlantic flight should be common. But neither Cape Spear nor Clifden have an airport. In fact, Clifden has a population of only about 3,000 people, many of which live in the relatively rural outskirts of the town. And Cape Spear has a lighthouse, but is otherwise uninhabited. On the plus side, Cape Spear is considered to be the easternmost point in North America, while Clifden is located on Ireland’s western shore. Which makes sense, as the Spirit of Butts Farm, below, is a radio-controlled model airplane. And it’s the first RC plane to make the flight across the Atlantic.
Weighing 11 pounds and carrying about a liter of fuel, the plane — named after the farm of a man named Beecher Butts (where the flight crew practiced) and Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis – made the over 1,800 mile flight in about 38 hours. In doing so, its pilot, a then-77 year old, legally blind and partially deaf man named Maynard Hill, set two world records: one, for the longest distance traveled by a model airplane; and two, for the longest time in flight.
The feat was no overnight success. Hill and some friends worked, on and off, for ten years designing the plane, in the end settling on a lantern-fuel powered vehicle made of fiberglass and balsa wood. They first attempted the feat a year earlier, making three attempts, each of which failed to travel more than 500 miles. And the successful flight did not go off smoothly. The plane was equipped with a GPS device which helped the plane — running across the Atlantic on autopilot — stay on course, all while reporting its position back to Hill (in Canada) and his colleague Dave Brown (in Ireland).
But for a three hour period, communications ceased, leading most of the team and onlookers to think the plane had crashed. When the GPS data came back in, cheers were short-lived, as the plane’s flight data had the plane going slower than had hoped — it was traveling at 42 miles per hour, while Hill et al were hoping for tailwinds to push it along at 55 mph. This heavily suggested that it would run out of fuel before making its way. But at roughly 2 p.m. on August 11, 2003, the Spirit of Butts Farm landed safely — with less than two ounces of fuel left in its tank, leaving it less than an hour left before it would have crashed.
Bonus fact: The landing spot for the Spirit of Butts Farm – again, Clifden, Ireland — was not chosen at random. In 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown completed the first non-stop transatlantic flight when they crash landed there. The flight took just under 16 hours.
Related: The Radian RTF remote controlled model airplane. 5 stars on eight reviews — which it needs to be, given the cost.
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