An international flight crew has broken the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe via the North and South Poles, with an impressive margin of almost six hours.
The 25,000-mile mission, dubbed “One More Orbit” and counting a former International Space Station commander among its leaders, was launched in honor of the Apollo 11 moon landings, the 50th anniversary of which is later this month.
The flight, in a Gulfstream G650ER ultra-long-range jet, was completed in 46 hours, 39 minutes and 38 seconds, with an average speed of 860.95 km/hr (534.97 mph).
The previous record, set in 2008, took 52 hours, 31 minutes and four seconds, at an average speed of 822.8km/h (511.26 mph).
Led by Action Aviation Chairman Hamish Harding and former International Space Station Commander Colonel Terry Virts, the crew took off on July 9 at 9:32 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, heading directly to the North Pole.
The aircraft later refueled in Kazakhstan before flying to Mauritius to begin the South Pole leg of the trip. It made another fuel stop in Punta Areas, Chile, before returning to Florida.
The jet, part of the Qatar Executive fleet, was powered by two Rolls-Royce BR725 A1-12 Turbofans.
The first pole-to-pole circumnavigation flight took place in 1965 in a modified Flying Tiger Line Boeing 707-349C carrying 40 scientists, guests and crew. To make the trip possible, the plane – nicknamed Pole Cat – had to be modified with two additional fuel tanks installed in the main cabin. The trip took 62 hours and 27 minutes.
In 1968, a Modern Air Transport Convair 990 airliner with 78 passengers and crew flew over both poles. This plane didn’t set a speed record, but by landing for fuel at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, it was the first aircraft to touch all seven continents.
In 1977, Pan Am Flight 50 set the speed record for a polar circumnavigation: 54 hours, seven minutes and 12 seconds. The record record stood for 31 years until 2008, when a Bombardier Global Express business jet broke it, thanks to perfect planning and shorter fuel stops.
“Our mission pays homage to the Apollo 11 moon landing, by highlighting how humans push the boundaries of aeronautics,” Harding said in a statement. “It is our way of paying tribute to the past, the present, and the future of space exploration.”