Saturday, May 30, 2009

Milton at Maypole

I landed back at Maypole this afternoon to discover a celebrity having tea and biscuits with his microlight parked on the grass.

Being an avid fan of National Geographic TV, I immediately recognised round the world microlight pilot and author, Brian Milton and some readers may have seen the series that charted his 'Global Flyer' progress across the globe in 1998. His 2001 attempt to cross the Atlantic ('Chasing Ghosts') was particularly dodgy as the Canadian government tried to stop him going and so I was able to ask him all about the trip.

Brian and a friend of 20 years, Keith Reynolds, set out to race their little aircraft around the world in 80 days, chasing the ghost of Phileas Fogg. They were buzzed ten times by a Mig-21 jet fighter trying to get out of Syria, but the Mig didn't shoot so they were able to reach Jordan. In the Saudi Desert, the engine "blew up" seven times, discharging all their cooling fluid.

They twice landed in the dark, and then changed their engine, which still blew up. It was only by rigging a Heath Robinson cooling system, tie-wrapping the radiator to an undercarriage leg and sending an Arab fireman out with $50 to find 8 feet of tubing and six clips, that they were able to get away. Their first test-flight was across 300 miles of Persian Gulf. They crossed India plagued by a heat-wave, and 800 miles of jungle-covered mountains in Burma, Laos and Vietnam. China held them up, then Japan, and then - for 26 days - the Russian authorities. Keith had to fly by airliner to Alaska while a Russian navigator took his place, but Keith lost heart in Anchorage and went home.

This left Brian to cross 3,000 miles of Siberia, sometimes covered in ice, with a Russian stranger in the back. From Nome, Alaska, Brian flew on alone, down to San Francisco, chased by tornadoes across to New York, and then the first solo west-east crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by microlight, where for three hours he was in a place "beyond fear". The flight won the Royal Aero Club's Britannia Trophy; there is no higher award in the gift of the Club. It also won the prestigious Segrave Trophy, once won by Amy Johnston.

Brian has just finished a book; 'Lancaster - The Biography' which you can find at and when I last saw him, he was getting ready to fly home on a rather less epic adventure flight to Plaistow outside St Albans.

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