Estimated reading time 18 minutes, 10 seconds.
On June 15, 2022, a Vancouver-based family of five (5 in the Sky) departed in their single-engine Gippsaero GA8 AirVan (C-GIPU) on an ambitious around-the-world expedition.
When Skies last spoke with the Porter family, they were excited about a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that would take them to 50 countries in 14 months.
So, almost six months in, how has the journey unfolded thus far? Has the 2013 GA8 AirVan (nicknamed “Moose”) held up to the family’s expectations? Skies caught up with chief pilot Ian Porter (dad), co-pilot Sydney (daughter, 18), and Christopher (son, 15).
“[So far], it’s been quite the adventure,” shared Ian. “We’re in Guayaquil, Ecuador, now, and the past few days have been challenging. We had permit challenges entering Peru.”
With “over 22,000 miles,” 15 countries, and 150 airports already in their rear-view, 5 in the Sky said the “loosely planned” route has taken a few detours thanks to the apparent limitations of flying VFR (visual flight rules), weather, and fuel availability.
“On the second day, we had a flat tire and shut the airport down,” joked Ian.
But other than a few minor hitches, the experience has been predominantly positive – and along the way, the aviation community has joined the ride.
“We’ve had a lot of interaction [on social media]. People message us every day,” said Sydney.
“[Often], people invite us to their aero club or let us know that they have family that lives where we are headed. It’s really amazing to see the outreach, and social media has opened many doors for us,” she added.
The family admitted that keeping up with the messages they now receive daily can be overwhelming. But it’s encouraging, nonetheless, and they have been enjoying documenting their experience for others to follow along.
Sydney shared that one particular 5 in the Sky Instagram post has achieved over 3.5 million views, and counting (see below).
“We landed in a smaller airport in Argentina, and air traffic control said, ‘Welcome, I’ve been following you on Instagram. I love what you are doing, and I’m going to come down to meet you guys.’
“It’s awesome; we’re getting more of that now,” she added.
Moose, the name that the Porters affectionately assigned to their AirVan, is equipped with a Lycoming TIO-540 turbo-normalized engine. The removal of three of the eight seats in the aircraft allowed for a cargo pod to be attached to the bottom of the plane, which can accommodate up to 440 pounds.
Sydney shared that the plane is a conversation starter “because no one knows what it is.
“It has worked out really well for the five of us — for gear and space — but even with the extra space, we are all still limited to 20 pounds of personal gear per person. So we’re traveling light,” she jested.
When asked about the dynamics of traveling in such close quarters with family, Christopher and Sydney shared a knowing look as they admitted, “It’s not all rainbows and music.”
“It’s hard, but we work well together,” explained Christopher.
As one of only a handful of around-the-world flights endeavored in a small aircraft, the Porters admitted that “flying a single-engine airplane around the world, VFR only and without an autopilot, is in itself a huge undertaking.”
“We’ve done a lot of difficult travel together, and we’ve managed to find our specific roles over time,” added Sydney. “We each have our little area where we take care of things on the expedition. In addition, we manage our own responsibilities, which helps keep everything on track.”
Not your typical family vacation
During a video call with Skies, the Porters — who tuned in with a tropical backdrop — acknowledged that despite having some challenges, there have been so many highlights from their experience thus far. The crew had difficulty choosing just one.
“Flying VFR under the midnight sun in Canada’s High Arctic, polar bear sightings in Manitoba, whale watching in Argentina, island hopping through the Caribbean, landing at remote airfields in the Brazilian Amazon, circling over Iguazu Falls, rounding Cape Horn, and flying over an active volcano in Chile, are just a few [of the highlights],” shared Ian.
When asked which memories are more cherished – the ones on foot, or in the air – the trio paused to ponder.
“I think they represent very different experiences,” noted Ian. “In the air, you get to see incredible landscapes, and get a unique perspective of countries you have dreamed about visiting. In the air, it is very much about the geography, landscape, and view, along with weather and navigation.”
Sydney added: “On the ground, however, it’s much more about the people you meet, and we are meeting people and forming long-term friendships in many of the places we stop.”
Currently, the family is in stage one of two of the planned route.
“We flew around the Arctic (and touched down in every province in Canada) before leaving Canada and heading down to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for EAA AirVenture. From there, we flew through the Bahamas and the Caribbean before entering South America in late August.”
In September, the Porters continued to Guyana and Brazil, soaring “along the Amazon River” and discovering Bolivia by foot.
“We continued to fly through Argentina, into Patagonia to Ushuaia. Then, from Ushuaia, we flew around Cape Horn into Chile to continue way up the western coast of South America.”
In the spring, they plan to visit Central America and Mexico and return to eastern Canada by mid-April.
“Most round-the-world flights are completed with as direct a route as possible, often with temporary auxiliary long-range fuel tanks installed to make long ocean crossings. Most are also completed under IFR (instrument flight rules) where the aircraft can climb above weather and travel long distances at high altitude.”
As a family of five, traveling through challenging (and ever-changing) climates and language barriers while learning “on the fly” what each border crossing entails, and operating a single-engine aircraft while maintaining VFR and no autopilot, is “unique.”
By allocating more than a year “with a very flexible itinerary” — which will hinge on weather and other outside factors — and “flying a modern, safe, and well-equipped aircraft with three licensed pilots on board,” the 5 in the Sky crew plan to “adhere to the mantra, ‘Use your superior judgement so you won’t have to use your superior piloting skills.'”
“Realistically, with a 14-month expedition, things will go wrong,” said Ian. “But we will make it, and we’ll just keep going. Flying, in many ways, is the easy part. The logistics . . . with a family of five . . . finding accommodations, [obtaining] permits and Visas, these are the obstacles.”
To put it all into perspective, you need only look at their recent experience flying north from Chile, through Peru, to Ecuador.
“We had planned to fly to Arequipa, Peru, and leave the airplane at the airport there for a week while we did some overland travel,” stated Ian. “Due to a mix-up with paperwork, we did not have permits to enter Peru when we arrived in northern Chile. Peru would not issue us a permit to stay in the country, but did issue us a permit to fly to Pisco to re-fuel and then Trujillo for an overnight stop before continuing north to Ecuador. As it turned out, the day we were to leave, the president of Peru attempted a coup, a state of emergency was declared, and political chaos ensued. When we finally arrived in Ecuador, the news broke that major demonstrations were occurring at airports in Peru, and that anti-government demonstrators had swarmed the airport in Arequipa and there were fatalities.”
If the 5 in the Sky AirVan was on the ground in Arequipa, it’s highly likely that it would have been damaged — putting an abrupt end to the expedition.
“Sometimes, you just have to be lucky,” added Sydney.
More adventure awaits
Looking forward, the Porters plan to eventually “cross the North Atlantic via Greenland and Iceland.”
From there, they will fly across Europe before heading to “Egypt, the Middle–East, India, and onwards to Japan.”
Finally, they hope to travel “through Eastern Russia to cross the Bering Strait into Alaska by late July.”
“We’ll then tour Alaska, the Yukon, and northern British Columbia before heading south to Vancouver before the end of August 2023.”
By the journey’s end, they will “cover more than 50,000 nautical miles (or over 90,000 km) through more than 50 countries.”
Anticipating the turbulence they will inevitably encounter — both in the air and on the ground — “we have found that delays or unexpected stops often yield some of the best and most unique experiences,” added Ian.
When asked what they miss most about home, the answer was undisputed: their two yellow Labs.
“We get regular updates, but they won’t talk to us on Zoom; they just ignore us,” joked Ian.
Fundraising events for the SOS Children’s Villages, as well as the “search for a primary sponsor,” will begin as the family travels back through North America.
You can live-track the Porter family’s journey here.