Here’s how to prepare for flying a plane around the world: Take flight lessons and water survival classes and put together a packing list that includes a life raft and oxygen tanks.
Babar Suleman and his 17-year-old son, Haris, need the lessons and gear for a monthlong trip that will have them flying over the ocean 60 percent of the time and will take them to 14 countries.
The trip’s biggest dangers are from spending so much of the journey over the ocean because of the risks of landing on the water if the engine fails or the plane has any other problem, Haris Suleman said. Just in case, they have a life raft packed with food, a water purifier and other gear to help them survive if they have to bail from the plane into the ocean, and they have trained for the worst-case scenario.
They’re taking the trip to achieve Babar Suleman’s dream of journeying around the world that he’s had since his dad read him Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in 80 Days” when he was a boy. But they also are flying to attract publicity and donations for an organization that builds schools in Pakistan.
“I thought it was one of the best causes possible, and the risk is worth it because of the adventure,” Haris Suleman said.
The Sulemans hope to raise $1 million for The Citizens Foundation, which has built 1,000 schools for boys and girls in Pakistan. The Sulemans have promoted their adventure on social media and fundraising websites, and their friends have raised money for them. They have raised $550,000 since January.
They are paying for the costs of the trip, including fuel and plane maintenance and repairs, themselves. Fuel alone will cost about $70,000, Babar Suleman said.
The cause is important to their family. Babar Suleman came to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1984 and is passionate about educating Pakistani girls. The women in Pakistan come from a culture that historically had 9-year-old girls marrying 70-year-old men and didn’t allow the girls to go to school, he said. Currently, schools in Pakistan still primarily cater to boys, and girls-only schools aren’t allowed, he said.
“You have to bring a little more sanity to the whole thing. The only way to improve the condition of everybody is through education,” he said. “The women have to start working. You can’t lock them up in a house. Young ladies should have an equal chance in life.”
Operating the schools that The Citizens Foundation builds cost $17,500 per year to teach 180 children — both boys and girls.
Babar and Haris Suleman, who live in Plainfield, will wrap up their preparations for the trip early next month.
They plan to travel 25,500 miles in about 155 hours of flight time, and they hope to do most or all of their flying during the day, Babar Suleman said. The longest leg of their journey is between Hawaii and California, which will take them 14 to 15 hours, he said. They’ll be required to check in with local officials across the world to provide updates on where they are.
They’re going to mail clothes ahead of them to countries they will be stopping in because the plane doesn’t have space for more baggage. Key supplies, such as an extra gas tank and inflatable suits to keep them warm and above water if they land in the ocean, leave little room for clothes beyond the flight suits they’ll wear.
This month, Haris Suleman, who has been training at the flight school in Greenwood, expects to earn both his private pilot’s license and instrument rating, which means he’ll be qualified to fly his family’s single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza. The instrument rating prepares him to fly through clouds and storms with only the instruments in the aircraft showing him where to go.
Haris Suleman has flown with his father since he was about 8, taking the controls with his dad’s help even before he could see over the control panel. He has the better hand-eye coordination of the two of them, which was why Babar Suleman wanted his son to do most of the flying, he said.
Haris Suleman learned aviation skills through the flight school at the Greenwood airport.
Babar Suleman has been flying since 2004 and has logged more than 1,700 hours of flight time. So if Haris Suleman has any trouble, his dad can take over the controls. He also has experience with mechanical mishaps in a plane. He safely landed a small plane on Interstate 70 in 2008 because of engine trouble. He handled that landing calmly and methodically, not panicking until the next day when he’d thought through the experience. He never flew that plane again.
The Sulemans are trying to prepare for any problems they could encounter. To avoid any trouble refueling, they took out seats and added an extra gas tank to their plane. Their full fuel tanks should last them approximately 15 hours in the air, but most legs of the trip will be no more than nine hours long.
They’re mapping a route based on which countries are safe to visit and can provide oil changes for every 20 hours in flight, as well as fuel when needed. Their stops include Greece, Australia and Pakistan.
The Sulemans have tried their best to prepare for the greatest danger they could face on the journey, which would be to land or crash in the ocean. They will follow shipping routes as much as possible, in case they end up in the water and need a ship to rescue them, Babar Suleman said. If that happens, they’re prepared with a rubber life raft and a machine to purify and remove salt from ocean water. They also have dye and flares to attract rescuers, and nutrition bars to keep them fed.