Estimated reading time 13 minutes, 34 seconds.
Depending on your point of view, it was either good luck, bad luck, dumb luck, or a quirk of fate.
When Callum Wallace moved his single-engine Beechcraft V35B Bonanza into a pristine, capacious hangar at Burlington Airpark (CZBA) near Toronto, he met a mild-mannered British ex-pat named Chris Elgar.
That chance encounter changed his life.
Wallace and Elgar were next-door neighbours at CZBA. They quickly formed a friendship, built upon their shared love of aviation and a desire to harness it for good. In the hangars, between flights over southern Ontario countryside and cityscapes, Elgar shared a ton of lively stories.
He drew reams of them from an 80-day round-the-world flight he completed in 2014, sharing the controls of a Piper Comanche 180 aircraft with his friend and fellow pilot Dave McIlroy.
That journey aimed to raise $250,000 for autism research at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. It got national media attention, giving Elgar and McElroy a stint of low-key celebrity.
The more Wallace heard of Elgar’s stories, the more he wanted to replicate the effort.
He knew it would be a tall order. Wallace had only three years and about 550 flight hours under his belt at the time. His Bonanza, capable of up to five hours of airtime, required upgrades.
But after more than two years of planning, fundraising, and a calculated media push, they found a way. On Aug. 1, 2023, Wallace set off on Flight for Hope, a 74-day solo journey around the world that has raised nearly $400,000 for Home Suite Hope, a charity that helps mothers at risk of homelessness.
“I’m happy I pushed through and didn’t pull the ripcord,” said Wallace, 28, who works in Oakville, Ont., as a commercial real estate broker.
“But there are definitely times when you’re weighing — you know, is this worth the risk?”
On the day of the launch, about 80 friends, family, colleagues, and financial supporters gathered at CZBA to watch Wallace tug his Bonanza onto the tarmac by hand and take off into blue skies.
In the cabin he carried a portfolio of emergency supplies: Satellite phone, text-based Garmin InReach communicator, four-person raft, flare gun, and enough food and water to last for days.
The Bonanza’s converted aft seating area also carried a 100-gallon auxiliary fuel tank with enough capacity to enable a 15-hour flight leg in the Pacific, the only major aircraft modification — apart from a new HF radio — Wallace made before the trip.
There was only one piece of precious cargo he forgot: His wallet. It was lodged in the door of his car back in Burlington.
There was no sense in circling back, so Wallace phoned a friend who lived in Quebec and asked him to meet in Sherbrooke with $2,000 in cash. That borrowed money, along with manually-entered credit card transactions along the way, were enough to get him across the Atlantic through to Spain.
Wallace carried on to Goose Bay, N.L., and then to Greenland and Iceland before wrapping up the first stage of Flight for Hope at a rural airport in northern Scotland.
“I didn’t end up getting my wallet until my girlfriend joined me in Barcelona,” he said, narrating the story for his nearly 1,100 followers on Instagram. “The trip was off to an interesting start.”
Over the next eight weeks he made stops in Wales, Spain, Rome, Athens, Egypt, Dubai, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Australia, Fiji, American Samoa, Kiribati, Honolulu, and California.
The final stage of the journey was relatively easy: California to Arizona, New Mexico and St. Louis before returning to Burlington on Oct. 8, 2023.
“Once I landed in California, it was happy days,” said Wallace in an interview with Skies. “I’m back to where I’m used to, and [it was] smooth sailing from there back home.”
The rest of the journey was by turns exhilarating, placid, anxiety-inducing, and full of legitimate danger. Wallace was struck by the lack of help from air traffic control at airports outside Canada and the United States.
It was crucial to always fly under visual meteorological conditions (VMC); there was so little support in the mountains over Greenland, Wallace believed cloudy skies might have led to a crash.
“That was my first wake up call,” he said. “On the trip you’re very much on your own. You’d better check everything yourself and don’t trust anybody [to guide you to safety].”
As he made his first Atlantic crossing, the Bonanza was always riding the edge of icing conditions, Wallace said. Over Spain, he recalls weaving between airspace after his cockpit global positioning system (GPS) cut out. For a stretch, he had to rely on the GPS on his phone.
“That was pretty challenging,” he said. Then, during a five-hour flight to Greece, the engine leaked oil onto the windshield, requiring a layover for repairs that lasted more than a week.
In remote locations that lacked adequate fueling facilities, he had to have avgas trucked to the airport. Despite all this, he recalls being in scary situations only a handful of times.
“The rest, you’re kind of in the moment,” he said. “You’re in the zone, you’re just focusing. I’ve never been one to let emotions or anything get to me.”
Flying for good
As a kid growing up in Oakville, Wallace wanted to be an airline pilot. He was a typical teenage avgeek, parked at the end of a runway at Pearson International Airport to watch jets fly in and take off. But a visual impairment — Wallace is mildly colourblind — scuttled that dream.
When he learned it was still possible to get his medical certificate for a private pilot’s licence, he studied hard and eventually earned his instrument rating while saving money to buy his own plane. His first aircraft was a four-seat Piper Arrow; he bought the Bonanza in 2022.
His desire to fly around the world, and to raise money for charity along the way, prompted him to dig in and accelerate his pilot training process. It wasn’t a casual, far-off ambition; he had big plans, and he wanted to get there fast.
In hindsight, he admits there are many tasks he might have completed differently. There were a few times he thought about giving up. Ultimately, he’s glad he didn’t.
“I feel very satisfied with taking this on,” he said. “I definitely have some plans to do more big things in my life, but it could be in a different category — maybe sail around the world next.”
He continues to fly, not only because he loves it but because he believes it makes him a better person.
“When I talk to people that aren’t pilots, I tell them to go out and fly,” Wallace said. “It really helps in all aspects of your life. If you do something like this [a flight around the world], there’s situations you get put under. It’s a lot of pressure.
“You kind of have to make the best decision and not panic. I think that crosses over into business and into all the other aspects in your life. If you fly on the side, I bet you it benefits your other career.”
The Flight for Hope wraps up its fundraising efforts with the Home for Good Gala, Nov. 10 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at The Pearle Hotel and Spa in Burlington.
Anyone wishing to donate to the cause can visit the Flight for Hope fundraising page.