Since the beginning of flight, “only around 700 pilots have flown around the world in light aircraft, and less than 300 of them are alive today. – earthrounders.com
Peter Teahen, of Teahen Funeral Home in Cedar Rapids, and John Ockenfels, retired CEO of City Carton Recycling of Iowa, are on a mission to raise awareness and money for polio eradication throughout the world by piloting Teahen’s single-engine aircraft around the globe in 51 days! Teahen and Ockenfels are cousins, experienced pilots, Rotarians and members of the Fellowship of Flying Rotarians.
While great strides have been made in eliminating polio in the United States, it remains a savage disease, still attacking thousands around the world. This rare flight around the world is in partnership with Rotary International, and its purpose is to raise awareness for continued vaccination efforts to end polio forever. A highly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under age 5, polio is spread from person to person, often through contaminated water. There is no cure, but polio is preventable.
Teahen and Ockenfels will take off from Cedar Rapids March 24 in a 1978 Piper Lance single-engine aircraft. The trip is estimated to take more than 135 hours of actual flight time, so both will be taking time out of their careers and lives, as well as covering the entire cost of the flight. As they fly eastbound, they’ll be encouraging financial donations to help in the effort.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has graciously offered to match all donations 2-to-1, and 100% of funds raised prior to, during and after the flight will be directed to the Rotary Foundation Polio Plus Program.
“Of course,” said Teahen, “the dates are subject to change due to issues out of our control. The 20,000-mile eastbound route has us facing one of our biggest challenges almost immediately, as we fly nearly 10 hours across the North Atlantic between St. John’s Newfoundland and the Azores.”
On several flights over hazardous water, the pair will wear immersion suits and be packing a four-man raft with emergency supplies, satellite phones and personal tracking devices. The flight circling the Earth will include 16 countries and 29 landings. “Once the flight is underway,” Teahen noted, “everyone can visit flighttoendpolio.com, and with only a five-minute delay, see exactly where we are.”
The aircraft, which Teahen has owned since 1990, has a single engine, retractable gear, a cruising speed of 150 knots and a five-hour fuel capacity. Prior to the trip, a 165-gallon fuel tank will be installed inside the plane to supplement the 96 gallons in the wings. Due to the lack of needed aviation fuel in most parts of the world, more than half their fuel stops will require the two pilots to hand-pump fuel from 55-gallon drums, which must be shipped by train or cargo ship to the various airports.
When asked about language barriers as they fly through so many countries, Teahen explained, “English is the standard language in aviation everywhere, which helps make this flight possible. As long as we land at international airports, we should be able to communicate with air traffic controllers.”
One planned visit is to Pakistan, where polio is very active. Teahen and Ockenfels will meet with medical providers and victims suffering from polio to better understand the needs of care teams and individuals afflicted by this infectious disease.
Rotary and the Gates Foundation have been recognized by governments worldwide as leading forces in helping fund the reduction of polio cases by more than 99.9% over the past 35 years. Polio eradication and long-term support of survivors continues to be a major Rotary initiative, and its focus includes research, needed vaccinations, clean water, improved healthcare for those afflicted and prevention of the disease.
While the end of polio may be near, no child anywhere is safe until every one has been vaccinated. Said Teahen: “Studies show that unless we end polio within 10 years, as many as 200,000 new cases could occur around the world every year.”
Fellow funeral directors are encouraged to share the Flight to End Polio Facebook page and make a donation to the Rotary Foundation at flighttoendpolio.com.