Solo pilot takes the world by storm

September 24, 2018

Ademilola Lola Odujinrin First African to fly the world solo on a single engine plane

British Nigerian Lola Odujinrin’s successful global circumnavigation in a single-engined aircraft without conventional support is a first for an African – a feat he describes as his greatest achievement in aviation.

Gruelling trip involved overcoming multiple obstacles, says Odujinrin

What sparked your interest in aviation?

It started at a young age and I thought it was cool and prestigious to work as a pilot. This was further amplified by my inquisitive nature, my curiosity about toy mechanisms and making kites by the age of 10. Through flying kites I gained an understanding of aerodynamics, which for me evolved into the ultimate goal of wanting to fly aircraft. This then became an ambition when I had the privilege of flying with my uncle in the cockpit of a BAC One-Eleven at age 14. Being able to fly to various parts of the world, experiencing different cultures and people has been a perk of being a pilot.

What have been your greatest achievements?

Being able to solo circumnavigate planet Earth in a single-engined aircraft without a conventional support team is by far my greatest achievement in aviation. I became the first African and ninth British person since records began in 1933 to do this. The fact that more humans have been into space than flown around the world solo suggests the difficulty involved.

What were the highlights and low points?

Flying around the world is an adventure that would test any individual, mentally and physically. I experienced the full cycle of emotions, from optimism, denial, acceptance, despondency to eventually, exhilaration. There were times I was clueless and finding solutions to imminent challenges seemed impossible. The most obvious obstacles were the legal and logistical challenges of squeezing enough fuel on board an aircraft designed to fly for 4h to last for around 19h, as well as getting all necessary permits. I will always remember the emotions I experienced getting over the hurdle of flying from Hawaii to California – around 2,210nm (4,100km) – in about 16h in icing conditions during March 2017. I took off from Hawaii at 01:00 into a very dark, moonless night and flew for around 15h without normal VHF radio contact with air traffic control. My high-frequency radio had packed up shortly after departure and my only means of communication was through text message from a satellite phone to Oakland Centre via London. The aircraft was very heavy and had to be manually flown. There was very little room for error as I had to fly to 2° of accuracy. Pitching 4° meant the aircraft sank, and pitching 7° meant it was stalling. I had to hand fly, balance fuel periodically and communicate on the satellite phone. Things only started getting easier after 6h, when the aircraft’s weight had come within its designed normal operating parameters. Low points were managing weather delays and mechanical breakdowns. The monsoon delayed me for weeks, in Thailand and Australia, adding substantial costs to the project. Other unnerving parts of the journey were flying close to conflict zones, being exploited by foreign suppliers and agents and suspected of being a spy.

What is your day job?

I work as a pilot for Jet2, flying the Boeing 737-800 out of Stansted airport to various European destinations. My typical day would start by arriving at least an hour and a half before each flight to complete all necessary paperwork, meeting the rest of the crew and inspecting the aircraft before flight. Jet2 boasts of a friendly culture and as such I interact with happy holiday customers and have the opportunity to show kids the flightdeck. This role allows me a good work-life balance, as I am usually home every night.

What are your ambitions?

My goals include breaking more aviation records. However, the most significant achievement would be to be able to give something back to young people, especially those from less privileged backgrounds. I have plans to set up a simulator flight-experience centre for kids wanting to have an idea of what flying an aircraft feels like. My next record attempt will be a high-altitude flight in an unpressurised, single-engined aircraft to around 60,000ft. Updates will be on my website, lolaodujinrin.com.

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Credits: Lola Odujinrin & Flight International

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