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History in the air
Tiny airplane makes historic continent-to-continent North Pole flight

Peter Worden
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 6, 2013

Aviation history was made last week in an aircraft so tiny and quiet you probably missed it.

NNSL photo/graphic

Last week, Slovenian pilot and world adventurer Matevz Lenarcic's 300-kg Pipistrel aircraft was the first to continent-hop to North America from Europe via the North Pole. - photo courtesy of Matevz Lenarcic

Slovenian pilot and world adventurer Matevz Lenarcic made history when he solo flew his Pipistrel aircraft - total weight 300kg - from Europe to North America over the North Pole.

The 54-year-old long distance pilot, aerial photographer, alpinist, paraglider and environmentalist has flown extreme routes in the Himalayas, in Patagonia and literally all around the world. This latest obsession, which originated in Slovenia, is a mission called the Green Light World Flight project.

"The North polar region has been crossed on foot, on skies, with icebreakers, submarines and aircrafts. But light- and ultra-light planes are still extremely rare in this part of the world," states Lenarcic's website, where people can track his global travels.

The pilot documents the global landscape from the air. His mission's mantra reads: "The world is not what we see. The world is mostly what we can't see." While technical research instrumentation that once weighed hundreds of pounds just a few years ago can now fit into a "fuel efficient, nature-friendly ultralight aircraft," no one has overflown the North Pole from one continent to another.

"In terms of the annals of flight, this is kind of breaking a new sound barrier," said Cam McGregor, a former private pilot who ran a flight school in Iqaluit, about the polar flight in a small, underpowered aircraft. "Ten to 15 years down the road when we're looking at all the records that have been set, this will probably turn out to be one of the noteworthy ones."

After flying from Svalbard to Resolute via the North Pole last week, Lenarcic had to overnight in Resolute as he and his Pipistrel waited out weather conditions in the capital. May 1 in Iqaluit was marked by rain and near-freezing temperatures and May 2 by high winds, which were too unpredictable for him to land.

Nunavut News/North was unable to reach Lenarcic by press time.

McGregor called the icing conditions "very unpredictable," especially at 5,000 to 1,500 feet in a small aircraft.

"You can't afford to make mistakes," he said. "You can be flying along and nothing is happening, then you start taking on ice and that's it."

McGregor owned an airplane for over a decade with fellow Iqaluit civilian pilots Bert Rose and Pat Nagle, who now maintains a website called Polar Pilots. Lenarcic contacted McGregor through the website, which other "polar pilots" use for general information such as routes, safety precautions and fuel supply locations.

"What we do is try to keep people out of trouble," said McGregor, explaining how his website gets maybe a half-dozen requests for information from some "hyper-achieving" pilots annually.

"Quite often these people are incredibly well researched, tip-top pilots. If we know that they are doing something that is absolutely ridiculous or can't be done then we will joyfully bring it to their attention that it is not a good idea and they should check with their insurance company or the Canadian government or whatever.

"Over the years there have been quite a number of pilots - inexperienced pilots, often - who have checked in with us and we've steered them away from some of the cockamamie things they had in their heads."

McGregor said Lenarcic is very competent and has a terrific technical team.

"He's the right guy to try it," he said.

This week, Lenarcic will give making history a rest and instead trace history. From Iqaluit, he will complete the long-distance flight over the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland, following Charles Lindberg's record flight to Paris from New York. Lenarcic adventure can be tracked at his World Green Flight website.

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