American duo buzz NZ from on high

By Alisa Yong alisa.yong@age.co.nz -
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Bill Harrelson's Lancair IV plane, which he and wife Susan built. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Bill Harrelson's Lancair IV plane, which he and wife Susan built. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A record-breaking American aviator has stopped off in Wairarapa during a once-in-a-lifetime trip in New Zealand.

Bill Harrelson holds world records for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe via both poles and the longest non-stop flight in a single-engine plane of its class. He and his wife Susan recently dropped by Masterton's Hood Aerodrome to visit the Vintage Aviator's collection of World War I fighter aircraft.

Bill and Susan Harrelson are travelling around New Zealand in their record-breaking Lancair IV. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Bill and Susan Harrelson are travelling around New Zealand in their record-breaking Lancair IV. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

The pair, both retired commercial airline pilots, are travelling around New Zealand in the record-breaking Lancair IV kitset plane they spent eight years building together.

During the three-month trip their New Zealand destinations include Taupo, Wanaka, Cromwell, Wellington and Auckland.

Mr Harrelson said he had been keen to come back to New Zealand ever since his brief stop-off in Hamilton in 2015.

"When I came on the polar flight I hadn't been to New Zealand before and it just seemed so beautiful, and the people were so friendly and even though we spent a short time, I knew I wanted to come back."

In 2013, Harrelson set a new world record for the longest non-stop flight in a single-engine plane, flying for more than 38 hours from Guam to Jacksonville, Florida.

In 2015, he set a world speed record for a solo flight between the earth's poles for an aircraft under 3000kg.

This trip was purely for fun, Mr Harrelson said, with no new record attempts in the offing.

After giving a short presentation at the Civil Aviation Authority in Wellington, the pair travelled over the hill to Hood Aerodrome, hosted by Carterton's Rex Kenny.

A special feature of the collection of World War I planes at the aerodrome was that the planes were still airworthy, Mr Harrelson said.

"It was very, very impressive. It was extremely enjoyable. It was just amazing -- a lot of original World War I planes that fly regularly, not just models," he said.

"It's not a museum, it's a hangar for flying airplanes."

Although the couple's two-seater plane can fly for a maximum of 20 hours with its current seating configuration, the couple were making short hops around the country and enjoying the chance to take in small town New Zealand, he said.

"You get the chance to see the real New Zealand, rather than just the big cities."

It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, Mr Harrelson said.

While often exploring the country by car, the couple could not be kept from flying long and have booked an 11-day adventure flying a Cessna near Cromwell.

Mr Harrelson and his wife will spend next month in Australia before flying home to Miami in March.

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