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HELICOPTER FLIGHT TRACES COLUMBUS' ROUTE ACROSS THE ATLANTIC

 MIAMI BEACH, Fla., Feb. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- What does loneliness feel like? Try 1,000 miles over open ocean in a single engine helicopter in search of a moving landing pad.
 What does confidence feel like? Try 1,000 miles over open ocean in a tried and tested single engine helicopter in search of a moving landing pad.
 And that was just the first leg of a trans-Atlantic odyssey undertaken by Francisco Pacheco and Tomas Spanier and their 10-year-old MD 500D helicopter named La Guacamaya (the national bird of Venezuela -- home country to Pacheco and Spanier). Their mission was to reverse the course of Christopher Columbus in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the new world.
 Even with today's space-age technology, the trip was a pioneering effort. Pacheco, Spanier and La Guacamaya established several new aviation records in their effort to celebrate Columbus' achievement.
 The first was an 11-hour non-stop "warm-up" flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Caracas, Venezuela. That 1,182-mile (1,902 km) flight took place in October 1992.
 "The Ft. Lauderdale to Caracas flight proved we could cover the distance needed to fly the Atlantic," Spanier said. "It assured us the helicopter would perform reliably over such long distances."
 The trans-Atlantic flight began on Dec. 9 with a three-hour hop from Caracas to Macuro, Venezuela, and then on to Port of Spain, Trinidad. Macuro was selected as the starting point because it was the landing point for Columbus' final visit to the New World and the only point where the explorer touched land on the South American continent.
 La Guacamaya left Port of Spain weighing 3,898 pounds (1,768 kg), some 898 pounds (407.3 kg) more than the designed gross weight of the MD 500D.
 "Our confidence in the ship was without question," Spanier said. "We've had the aircraft since 1981 when we flew it away new from the factory.
 "It's part of us, we have every confidence in that helicopter," he said.
 Since that time only Pacheco and Spanier have flown the craft, which has accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours.
 "We were never afraid of the flight," Spanier said. "But at times, we were afraid we wouldn't be able to make the trip because of the tremendous costs involved."
 Spanier estimates the trip's expenses would be $1 million, much of which still needs to be raised.
 The first over-ocean segment of 988 nautical miles to the bulk cargo ship "Sorolla," aboard which a landing pad had been constructed, was flown in 9 hours and 55 minutes.
 A global positioning navigation system allowed the crew to find the vessel in the vast Atlantic waters. En route weather information was provided through special arrangements with Universal Weather and Aviation of Houston, which sent forecasts via facsimile to each stop along the way.
 Initial winds of up to 20 knots on the nose caused some concern with the crew, but the winds eventually decreased to about 5 knots. Air speeds averaged just more than 103 mph (166 km). The aircraft landed with 34 gallons (128.7 L) of fuel remaining from the 290-gallon (1,098 L) initial load.
 Fuel was contained in a tank designed specifically for the trip by Robertson Aviation. The tank occupied almost the entire rear passenger compartment. Fuel was fed from the auxiliary tanks to the main tank by gravity through a hand-controlled valve. "We didn't want to be dependent on a pump in case we had electrical problems," Spanier said.
 Take-off from the ship without the benefit of ground effects was likely the riskiest part of the journey. With La Guacamaya loaded with 260 gallons (984 L) of fuel for the next leg to Sal Island in the Cape Verde chain, every piece of personal gear was left aboard the ship.
 The 8-hour, 833.5-mile (1,341 km) flight to Sal Island went without incident with air speed eventually reaching 163 mph, (262 km), which Spanier said was the fastest the helicopter had ever flown. "We needed every bit of that speed," he said. "We wanted to see earth, not water."
 La Guacamaya landed with a 55-gallon (208 L) "cushion" in the tanks.
 From there on, the trip was a ride in the country; Sal Island to Reina Sofia Airport in the Canary Islands, 707 miles (1,138 km) in 6 hours and 20 minutes, and 735 miles (1,183 km) in 6 hours and 50 minutes to Palos de la Frontera in Spain, which was Columbus' departure point for his pioneering journeys.
 The total trip, Venezuela to Spain, was 3,364 miles (5,413.6 km) in the air (does not include 444 miles (715 km) aboard the Sorolla) was covered in 33 hours and 7 minutes actual flight time. Fuel burned was 745 gallons (2,820 L). Average speed was 101.6 mph (163.5 km/hr).
 There are several record-setting flights in the odyssey for helicopters in La Guacamaya's class: Ft. Lauderdale to Caracas, longest over-ocean flight from Macuro to the Sorolla, and several point-to-point in-class helicopter speed and distance records, which Pacheco and Spanier have submitted to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) for verification.
 "We are very happy not only to receive a record in aviation history but also to have completed a historical and cultural milestone in celebration of Columbus' 500th anniversary," Spanier said.
 -0- 2/18/93
 /CONTACT: Ken Jensen of McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co., 602-891-2119/
 (MD)


CO: McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co. ST: Florida IN: ARO SU:

LS -- LA054 -- 8109 02/18/93 16:55 EST
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Date:Feb 18, 1993
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