Spending over a year flying around the world with your family in a tiny single-engine aircraft is something most people could only imagine.
But it’s very much the reality for the Porters, from Canada, who are currently around halfway through a 14-month circumnavigation of the world.
Ian Porter, who has been a private pilot for around four decades, his wife Michelle, daughters Samantha, 21 and Sydney, 18, who also happen to be qualified pilots, and son Christopher, 15, set off from Vancouver on June 15, 2022 and have “been basically traveling every day since.”
The family, who are taking a “low and slow” approach to the trip, have already visited around 20 countries, including the United States, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras, and have flown over 25,000 nautical miles.
According to Ian, flying a single-engine airplane around the world is a dream “that’s probably somewhere in the back of the minds of all pilots,” but he began to look into the prospect more seriously a few years ago after going on a few long-distance fundraising trips.
A couple of years ago, the real estate developer, who had always longed to spend more time traveling with his family, saw a “window of an opportunity” with Samantha planning to take a year off from university and Sydney due to graduate from high school.
Meanwhile, Christopher had just experienced a “dry run” of remote schooling during the pandemic, so he knew that this was a viable option, while wife Michelle had been a full-time homemaker for a number of years.
Convinced that it was pretty much now or never, Ian quickly set about convincing the rest of the family to take the plunge,
Once everyone was on board with the idea, he was left with the tricky task of finding a suitable single-engine aircraft for the expedition.
Ian explains that he wanted to fly under visual flight rules, a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions clear enough to see where they are going and don’t need to file and seek approval for flight plans.
That factored into their choice of plane as most aircraft used for round-the-world trips are larger and require routes planned in advance and approved by air traffic controllers.
“Finding an airplane that would take five people, survival gear and a reasonable amount of luggage wasn’t necessarily the easiest thing,” he admits.
He eventually came across a Gippsaero GA8 AirVan, a modern aircraft manufactured in Australia, available for sale just a short distance away from their home in Vancouver.
“I think it was a sign,” he says. “Here’s the plane – either get on with it or be quiet.”
The Porters subsequently bought the aircraft, which they’ve nicknamed Moose, for $500,000 and “the rest is history.”
Ian describes their single-engine utility aircraft, which can carry up to eight people and is capable of cruising at 220 kilometers per hour (125 knots) for up to five hours, as a “sport utility vehicle for the sky.”
“You can load it up with stuff,” he says. “The one thing it doesn’t do is go very fast. So it fits well with our whole modus operandi of ‘low and slow.’ It’s the perfect plane for this mission.”
While Ian acts as chief pilot, Samantha and Sydney are his co-pilots, wife Michelle is in charge of health documents and visas, as well as “day to day necessities” and Christopher takes care of their camera equipment, when he’s not studying remotely.
“My friends think that we’re a bit crazy, because of what we’re doing, but it’s definitely worth it,” says Samantha, who qualified to be a pilot back in 2021, at the same time as her sister and fellow co-pilot Sydney.
“There’s obviously the small family bickers. But I feel like that happens even when you’re at home and nothing is really happening that’s this intense.”
They say they’re currently averaging about an hour of flying per day and say they’ve already landed at more than 160 different airports.
“We haven’t overly planned anything, because there are so many variables,” Ian adds, explaining that they’re “always at the mercy of the weather.”
“It’s very difficult to plan too far ahead. We have no fixed agenda, and we have no fixed places [that] we’re actually heading to. We’re just following a very general route.”
The Porters aim to raise $1 million for SOS Children’s Villages, an international charity focused on supporting children in over 130 countries without parental care and families at risk, during the course of the trip.
“In addition to it being a great family adventure, we wanted to make it count for something,” explains Ian.
Five in the sky
The fact that they’ve been able to set aside a full 14 months to complete the trip has been hugely helpful, as it means that there’s time to take in the sights along the way without feeling as though they need to rush.
The family has bedded down in various camping sites, hostels and hotels and occasionally been put up for the night by some of those who have been following their journey. They even spent Christmas in the Galapagos Islands.
“We’re not racing,” says Ian. “We’re not having to leave somewhere, and get to somewhere else on a certain day. Because that’s when you make bad decisions.”
Although Samantha and Sydney’s flying experience was relatively limited before the start of the trip, the pair say they’ve been picking up lots of new skills through the journey.
“The actual in-the-air flying is only part of it,” adds Ian, who says his daughters have been “phenomenal.”
“There’s a lot of work that goes behind that like checking the weather, navigation and radio work, particularly when we’re flying in countries where we don’t speak the native language.”
Michelle admits that it can be frustrating being one of the only non-pilots on board “Moose” – Christopher is also keen to get his pilot’s license in the future – but she’s enjoying watching her kids gain more and more confidence in their abilities.
“Being a part of, and supporting our children’s growing confidence as pilots and adventure enthusiasts, has been incredible,” she tells CNN Travel over email.
On flying to Cape Horn, known as the “southern tip” of South America, last year, Samantha says she truly began to appreciate just how much of an incredible achievement the trip has been, and will continue to be, for each of them.
“Going from the absolute tip, northernmost part of North America to the absolute southernmost part, and what they call the ‘end of the world,’” she recounts.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, not only is this so cool, but it’s so impressive. We’ve achieved something so incredible as a family. And it’s just the beginning.’”
For Ian, flying across Amazon rainforest fires was a particularly poignant moment, albeit for very different reasons.
“We’ve seen the Amazon on fire firsthand,” he says sadly. “I mean, it was absolutely astounding. It was close to four and a half hours of solid flying through smoke, watching fires burn in every direction.
“It’s the stuff you read about in newspapers, and you think about intellectually. But actually seeing it is just a different experience.”
The Porters admit that the trip has had its bumpy moments, and the combination of being almost constantly on the go and having to deal with so many different factors, including on-the-ground airport logistics, as well as trying to stay healthy, has taken its toll at times.
“It’s been a real test of becoming comfortable with discomfort in a way,” says Samantha. “I’ve experienced more things in the past seven months than I have ever experienced in my life or would have expected to have experienced.
“Different climates, different cultures and different places. It’s been a great challenge.”
One of the biggest challenges they’ve faced has been the bureaucratic process that comes with flying a small aircraft into so many different countries, such as permits to fly and visas.
“When you arrive at an airport, you’re basically at their mercy,” says Ian, adding that it can sometimes take up to three or four hours to move through all of the steps on the ground after landing in a particular destination.
However, he’s hugely impressed with the way the “crew” has coped with everything, and notes that onlookers have commented on how well they all work together, both on board, and on the ground.
“A lot of people think when you’re flying around the world by private single engine aircraft, that you’re on a deluxe trip, staying in five-star accommodation and having your bags carried,” he adds.
“I mean, you can do that. But we’re doing everything ourselves. Everybody’s kind of pulling together. We get on and get it done.”
Michelle points out that the aviation community has been hugely supportive and helpful to them throughout the course of the trip.
“We have met the most incredible people,” she adds.
Currently in Belize, the Porters say they’ll likely head to Guatemala next, before flying on to Mexico. Next, they plan to fly to Eastern Canada, before crossing the North Atlantic through Greenland, Iceland, and then across Europe.
From here, they’ll likely fly across Egypt, the Middle East, India, and Japan, although they say the exact route “will always evolve.”
Some sections further on are still uncertain due to the fact that Russian airspace has been closed to a number of different countries, including the US and Canada, since early 2022 as a result of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“The logical route for us is to go into eastern Russia and then across into Alaska,” explains Ian.
“But right now, Russian airspace is closed to us. So it’s a question mark, which we don’t have a solution to right now.”
They estimate that they’ll return to Canada towards the end of August.
For the time being, the family, who have been documenting their journey via their website 5 in the Sky, are taking things day by day, and trying to savor every moment of their incredible journey.
While Ian admits that it’s been tougher than he initially expected, he’s thrilled with the way they’ve all gelled together and is grateful to be sharing the experience with his wife and children.
“Those three-to-four-hour bureaucratic waits can become unbearable after a while if you’re doing that on your own,” he says.
“But at least if you’re hanging around with your family, you can play some cards or whatever.”
Samantha is also very aware of how lucky they are to have the opportunity to see the world together in such a unique way, and says that she and her brother and sister have learned a great deal from the experience.
“We obviously face our challenges,” says Samantha. “But honestly, I’m going to look back on these experiences and miss spending all these days with my family.
“Being able to explore places that I never would have expected to explore and having an aircraft to go into such remote locations.”