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Saluting the Explorers

October 11, 2017  By Rick Adams

When I caught up with Stephen Dengler in early August, he was a bit frosted. “The weather has been against us the whole way,” he commented. They were stuck in Nome, Alaska for a couple of days, and he had “no idea” when he, his father, and former Bell Helicopter test pilot Rob ‘Dugal’ MacDuff would complete their world circumnavigation in a Bell 429 GlobalRanger.

But 77-year-old W. Robert “Bob” Dengler was not to be denied his round-the-planet dream flight with his son. A year ago, Bob had been through cancer chemotherapy treatments. Their original third man, Bruce Laurin, also a former Bell test pilot, had died in September 2016. Fickle weather had dogged the Denglers from the start of the flight on Canada Day, July 1, causing several changes of flight plan, even grounding them for five days in Iqaluit. They decided to steer clear of Vancouver because of wildfires in central B.C, so as not to jeopardize the safety of the crew and add to the workload of air traffic controllers.

But Dad Dengler had been thinking about this mission since buying the 429 in 2010 (the first Canadian customer), and they’d been doing heavy-duty planning for two years. Bob had even tuned up for long-distance flying with a 4,400-nm jaunt from Toronto to Baffin Island in 2015 (with wife Patricia and Laurin).

The co-founder of Dynatec Mining also summited Mount Kilimanjaro, at age 74.

Bob rotated as pilot-in-command with MacDuff, who has flown a dozen different Bell models. Steven, a fixed-wing pilot for a decade who is nearing his 429 certification, handled left seat duties.


He said of the 429: “Despite the fact that it’s this big, powerful helicopter, it’s smooth as glass to fly.”  

The Bell 429, of course, is a Canadian-built aircraft, produced at the Bell Helicopter Textron Canada facility in Mirabel, Que.

“It was the ideal aircraft for this Canadian-born odyssey,” said Bell president Cynthia Garneau.

The historic father-son flight also raised funds for Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., and the True Patriot Love Foundation, a national charity that helps Canadian military families.

“We had the honour of carrying the pride and spirit of the Canada 150 celebration around the world,” Steven said. “Over seven weeks, against the backdrop of a trip around the entire world, we experienced highs and lows, had adventures, surprises, saw unforgettable sights and amazing people.”

Twenty-five years ago, a Bell helicopter was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Ross Perot, Jr., famous at the time as the son of businessman U.S. presidential spoiler candidate Ross Perot, Sr., and Jay Coburn, a veteran Vietnam War helicopter pilot who had also helped rescue Perot employees from an Iran jail, flew a Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II 26,000 miles across 26 countries in 29 days.

Australian Dick Smith was the first to solo circumnavigate in a LongRanger III. He also took his wife, Pip, around the world in a Sikorsky S76 in 1994-95. Brit Jennifer Murray was the first female pilot to complete the circle, in a Robinson 44 with Quentin Smith, which was also the first piston-powered rotorcraft.

The speed record is owned by Simon Oliphant-Hope of the U.K. in 17 days, 14 hours, 2 minutes, 27 seconds. The Denglers and MacDuff are the 12th to achieve the feat in a helicopter, and of course the first father-son combo.

When the trio departed, the Canadian dollar was trading at 77.134 cents to the U.S. dollar, according to XE, the currency exchange website founded by Stephen Dengler.

By journey’s end, the CAD was up about 2.5 per cent. If they were to make another record-setting attempt soon, the entire Canadian economy would no doubt be appreciative.

Rick Adams is chief perspective officer of AeroPerspectives, an aviation communications consultancy in the south of France, and is the editor of ICAO Journal.


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