On April 26th, 2000 I met one such person, Hans Georg Schmid (pictured above), when he landed his single engine homebuilt airplane on the island of Maui, Hawaii during a record setting solo flight around the world. Hans was a pilot for Swissair at the time, and usually flew an MD-11 wide body passenger aircraft on international routes.
This day he had flown his "slightly" smaller personal plane from San Francisco to Maui, a flight which had taken 16 hours and 31 minutes. I was President of the local chapter of the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) at the time and had the privilege to greet him at the airport and dine with him the following night. Hans was setting another record in this plane, by circling our planet twice, once eastbound, and then westbound! For a list of his aviation records visit this webpage at the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Voyages such as this inspire awe, admiration, interest in other lands and peoples, and a feeling that one can accomplish nearly any goal in life that one sets one's mind to.
(Sadly, Hans was killed on July 23, 2007 while trying to set yet another speed record in a hand crafted high performance airplane, the Express 2000 ER.)
The world's FIRST circumnavigation of the earth caused a paradigm shift in the thinking of the people of the time, for it demonstrated in concrete terms what had been theorized for centuries. It proved that the earth was finite - a sphere floating in space. That certain knowledge sparked fear in some quarters and a rush among European powers to grab what they could of the limited land, resources, and even 'souls' of this planet. There were explorations in years before, but once the globe had actually been circled, its finite character was absolutely confirmed. The result was an explosion of exploration, conquest, and colonization.
It goes on today, under the label "globalization", whether for the benefit of mankind or for the exploitation of them and their resources by the most powerful countries and corporations of the world. Whatever one's world view, the first circumnavigation of the globe was undeniably a pivotal event in world history. Not until Apollo 10 astronauts on the way to the moon in May of 1969 photographed the earth from 36,000 miles in space, was mankind made so acutely aware of our true situation.
So here's the pop quiz question:
Who was the very first person known to have circumnavigated the globe? (Hint: It was done by sailing ship.)
The correct answer will be revealed in a later post.