Bill Harrelson is no stranger to spending alone time in a small plane. He's the current record-holder for distance flown during a flight, having flown from Guam to Jacksonville, Florida, at a distance of 7,051 nm, in 38 hours, 29 minutes in 2013. Now he's trying to fly from pole-to-pole in record time.

He departed from his hometown in Kinston, NC nonstop to Angel S Adami Airport in Montevideo, Uruguay on the first leg of another epic solo flight, then on to to Punta Arenas, Chile, on Dec. 30th in his purpose built Lancair IV, N6ZQ, that has been modified to carry a long-range fuel load of 361 gallons and is essentially a flying gas can.

It took Bill 8 years to build his Lancair IV N6ZQ, powered by a Barrett IO-550 non-turbo, air-cooled piston engine. Of the nine internal fuel tanks, the volume of the two wing tanks were maximized during construction and wing mounted speed brakes were removed to increase tank capacity and save weight. Two more tanks were added where the rear passenger seats would go.

The co-pilot's seat and rudder pedals were also removed to accommodate yet another tank. In addition, a series of collapsable tanks were fitted on top of the rear seat tanks. All these tanks feed into a pump manifold that sends fuel through a final 15-gallon header tank behind the instrument panel that includes a very accurate sight level indicator. This gives the pilot a very accurate indication of the fuel remaining. Managing all this gas is no simple matter and requires selecting each tank individually to maintain proper weight and balance.

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This is Bill's second attempt in his specially built Lancair IV N6ZQ at flying around the world over both poles. He was denied the record in March 2013 due to adverse weather conditions around the South Pole. His journey so far on this attempt has already included a staggering 25-hour flight from South America to the French Polynesian islands. With quickly changing weather, variable winds, and its remote location, the trip to the South Pole is the most challenging portion the journey, which he completed with only a minor detour.

He now is back on U.S. soil, resting in Hawaii and preparing for the next phase of the record breaking attempt. The plan includes another leg to Alaska and then the North Pole before returning to his home in North Carolina.

You can track his progress here.

Update: Bill is holding in Hawaii as he considers a route to avoid potential icing condition on the next leg to Fairbanks, Alaska which is a required destination to complete the world record. Alternate plans to fly along the continental U.S. are being considered which give Bill an acceptable emergency plan if unexpected weather is encountered.

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Top photo Lancair, by D. Miller (Flickr / CC Commercial License)


Chris is a pilot who loves airplanes and cars and his writing has been seen on Jalopnik. Contact him with questions or comments via twitter or email.