30 September 1982

H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay W. Coburn with Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, N3911Z, after their 29-day around-the-world flight. (© Bettman/Corbis)

30 September 1982: H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay W. Coburn completed their around-the-world helicopter flight when they landed Spirit of Texas at their starting point at Dallas, Texas. They had flown the single-engine Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, serial number 45658, civil registration N3911Z, more than 26,000 miles in 246.5 flight hours over 29 days, 3 hours and 8 minutes. They had begun their journey 1 September 1982. Perot and Coburn traveled across twenty-six countries. They established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for helicopter speed around the world, eastbound, having averaged 56.97 kilometers per hour (35.399 miles per hour). (Class E-1d, FAI Record File Number 1254). They also established a series of point-to-point records while enroute, with the highest speed, an average of 179.39 kilometers per hour (111.47 miles per hour), taking place on 7 September 1982, while flying Spirit of Texas from London to Marseilles (FAI Record File Number 10018).

The Bell Helicopter Company Model 206L-1 is a 7-place light helicopter powered by an Allison 250-C28B turboshaft engine. This engine produces 500 shaft horsepower but is de-rated to 435 horsepower, the limit of the main transmission. Lift is provided by a two-bladed main rotor and a two-bladed tail rotor counteracts torque. The LongRanger II is designed to be flown by a single pilot and is certified for Visual Flight Rules (VFR). The 206L LongRanger series helicopters are stretched versions of the earlier 5-place Bell Model 206B JetRanger.

Perot had purchased the LongRanger, call sign “November-Three-Nine-One-One-Zulu”, for $750,000 specifically for this flight. Modifications started immediately and over the next three weeks an additional 151-gallon fuel tank was added giving the helicopter approximately 8 hours’ endurance. “Pop-out floats”—inflatable pontoons that can be deployed for emergency landings on water—were installed. The helicopter also carried a life raft and other emergency equipment and supplies. Additional communication and navigation equipment, and radar was installed.

During the circumnavigation, the helicopter burned 56,000 pounds of jet fuel and made 56 fueling stops, including aboard a pre-positioned container ship in the North Pacific Ocean.

The helicopter was donated to the Smithsonian Institution and is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum.

Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, N3911Z, “Spirit of Texas”, on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.