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Pilot attempts first pole-to-pole solo flight

From Silvio Carrillo

Gus McLeod took off Monday headed to the South Pole from a Maryland airport.
Gus McLeod took off Monday headed to the South Pole from a Maryland airport.

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COLLEGE PARK, Maryland (CNN) -- A Maryland man embarked Monday on a quest to become the first pilot to fly solo around the globe from pole to pole.

After numerous interviews with news media, and pictures and hugs from fans, admirers, and family, Gus McLeod sat in his South Korean-made single-engine plane and took off from a suburban Washington airfield.

"I'm trying to bring back the magic to aviation," McLeod said before de-icing his frost-covered plane with a towel. He planned the trip to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first successful powered flight, which was earlier this month.

He said his main concern is the weather over Antarctica, where he could not be rescued for approximately 15 hours if his aircraft goes down over the expansive southern ice cap.

If McLeod completes the 28,000-mile journey, it will be his third aviation world record. He also holds the records for being the first person to fly an open-cockpit airplane to the magnetic north pole -- the location compasses point toward -- and the first to fly an open-cockpit airplane to the geographical north pole.

His airplane, called the Firefly, is an experimental Velocity aircraft given to him by a South Korean aviation company. It does not have an open cockpit.

McLeod plans to stop first in Florida for extra fuel tanks, then to head through South America, over the South Pole, continuing across Australia, Asia, the North Pole and then back home.

Among the many supporters witnessing McLeod's farewell from College Park Airport were about a dozen Tuskegee Airmen -- the famed African-American World War II military squadron. And, as they were once his inspiration to take up flying, he hopes to inspire others himself.

"Here's an ordinary guy," said McLeod, referring to himself, "who's never been a professional pilot, who's doing world records in aviation; I can do it too and I think that's the real reason deep down."

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