The world record for the longest single aeroplane flight is an astonishing 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes, a little over two months straight. More astonishing, says Anders Clark in Disciples of Flight, is that the record hasn’t been broken since 1958, when Robert Timm and John Cook co-piloted a poxy little two-seater Cessna around the deserts and mountains near Las Vegas. They refuelled by winching a hosepipe down to a specially kitted out petrol truck that was driven along the ground beneath them. One of the two airmen had to clamber out of the cockpit to stick the fuel pipe into the engine. Over the course of the flight, they repeated this potentially deadly refuelling process 128 times.
Although they rotated flying duties every four hours, both the bear-like Timm and “lanky” Cook struggled to sleep. Day 36 of their flight brought them “dangerously close to a tragic end”. Timm drifted off in the pilot seat at 2.55am as they flew over the California desert town of Blythe, dozing for an hour before waking up at 4am. The autopilot had kept them in the air, and they were now flying due south through a canyon, halfway to Arizona. By the time they landed a month later, they had flown more than 150,000 miles, roughly equivalent to six times around the earth. And how did they go to the loo? Cook’s widow was once asked if they’d handed down their waste during refuelling runs. “No,” she replied. “That’s why it’s so green around Blythe.”
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