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Mon Dec 29, 2:03 PM ET

Maryland Man Begins Pole-To-Pole Flight

By BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press Writer

Photo: AP

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Gus McLeod wiped frost off the wings of his small airplane and departed Monday with hopes of becoming the first person to fly over the North and South Poles in a single-engine plane.

The 49-year-old amateur aviator said he was "scared to death" but "psyched up" for the voyage, which he estimates will be roughly 28,000 miles. "I can't wait until this is over," he said before taking off from the College Park Airport and swinging around to buzz the airfield.

His wife, Mary, and more than 100 friends and well-wishers came to see the Gaithersburg pilot take off into a bright sunny sky.

McLeod made history three years ago when he became the first pilot ever to fly to the North Pole in an open cockpit plane.

He planned this pole-to-pole trip to coincide with the 100th anniversary of powered flight. His plane is equipped with a modernized version of the Wright brothers' canard wing design. The one-of-a-kind prototype is a modified Velocity aircraft.

McLeod said he was making the journey to show that amateur aviators can still break new ground in aviation.

The black aviator also said he was making the trip in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed black fliers of World War II, and some members of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. came to see him off.

"We wanted to give him all the support we possibly could," said Sam O'Dennis, 77, of the group's Chicago chapter.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service Memorial Foundation, said she came to wish McLeod well, saying the trip was a way of paying tribute to pioneers in flight.

"I applaud him for having the courage to do it," Vaught said.

After a stop in Florida for extra fuel tanks, McLeod plans to fly along the eastern coast of South America, making stops in Belem, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and Ushuaia, Argentina.

He is hoping to buy extra fuel that was stored for another aviator near the U.S.-New Zealand McMurdo-Scott base in Antarctica. If he can, he plans to fly on to New Zealand before going up through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, through the Fiji Islands, to Hawaii, up to Alaska and back down to the East Coast.

If he can't get the fuel near McMurdo, he plans to fly over to Africa and over Europe en route to the North Pole.

McLeod isn't the first to try the pole-to-pole trip this month. British pilot Polly Vacher gave up after having problems with strong winds and delays in getting fuel in Antarctica. Also this month, a man and woman had to be rescued after crashing a helicopter while trying to make the pole-to-pole flight.

McLeod estimates the trip will take about two months, flying every day for between 8 and 10 hours. One leg at the South Pole will require 27 hours of straight flying, McLeod said.

On the Net:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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