Travis Ludlow: Breaking a World Record at 18
On 12 July 2021, Travis Ludlow broke the world record for the youngest person to fly solo around the world in a single-engine, just 15 days younger than the previous record-holder.
Originally from Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, Ludlow doesn’t come from an aviation family. In fact, he is still the only person in his family who flies.
For his 12th birthday, Ludlow’s godmother bought him a glider lesson. At 14, Ludlow became the UK’s youngest glider pilot. At 17, Ludlow received his pilot’s license and soon after obtained his instrument rating. He got his pilot’s license on his 17th birthday, picking it up personally at 8am in the morning from the CAA in the UK. The next day he flew off to Arizona in the US to complete his IR.
Ludlow’s trip around the world would take him 44 days and 63 stops. The 26,759 mi/44,065km journey would take him into sixteen countries.
His route was strategic, seeing him fly across Europe, Russia, into North America, over Greenland, Iceland (down to Africa), and back again. Ludlow describes it as ‘the safest route possible.’ Not only did the route avoid countries more affected by COVID-19, but it also avoided large bodies of water.
By crossing the Bering Strait, which separates Russia from Alaska, Ludlow avoided two 15-hour flights over the Pacific Ocean to the United States.
“Those are two long, dangerous flights that are thousands of miles away from land. You have one engine, so if the engine fails, you’re probably over 24 hours from rescue,” says Ludlow.
In his 2001 Cessna 172R diesel, Ludlow planned to fly 4-5 hours a day to complete the trip, but that quickly changed.
“I found it a bit too easy because I’d take off late in the morning, land early afternoon, and still have plenty of time where I could be flying,” says Ludlow, “So, I decided to up it to about eight hours a day.”
By flying 8-hour hours a day, three days in a row, Ludlow could enjoy days off and adequate rest throughout his trip.
Ludlow says that the trip made him a better pilot, too. Overcoming stressful situations instilled his training, such as what to do when flying into inadvertent IMC (instrument meteorological conditions).
“I just continued to stick to my training. If the plane is doing something I don’t want it to do, it’s the three rules: aviate first, then navigate, and then communicate,” says Ludlow.
For the last leg of his journey, Ludlow was crossing the North Sea when his weather radar showed patches of dark red which indicates heavy rain or hail.
“I remember thinking, this is nothing compared to what I’ve flown in during the trip,” tells Ludlow, “So, I flew straight through it, had a bit of turbulence, a bit of rain, and there was no problem whatsoever.”
Ludlow says he would consider making the trip again and potentially changing the route if he had a bigger plane and a larger range.
So, what advice does this young pilot have to say to other ambitious pilots? Well, it’s similar to what many pilots say about making long-distance trips: just do it.
“No matter what happens, no matter what gets in your way, or whatever difficulties or challenges that come, just keep pushing,” says Ludlow. “Keep believing that you can do it, and eventually, you’ll reach that goal.”
“In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take.”