While many Lexingtonians launch their Memorial Day weekend by firing up the grill on Saturday, Gray Lang Jr. and his son Graeme plan to jump into a twin-engine Beechcraft airplane and fly to England.
The 22-year-old Beechcraft looked awfully small and delicate in a hangar at the Georgetown-Scott County Regional Airport this week as it waited for a mechanic to finish a nose-to-tail maintenance overhaul.
It's not unusual for people who own their own planes to fly to other countries, and Gray Lang has flown all over South, Central and North America, including Alaska. "This trip is one that's been on my bucket list for a long time," he said.
Last year, the Langs considered flying the Beechcraft around the world. They checked insurance requirements and the political stability of countries over which they would have to fly. It got complicated.
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"Time eventually got away from us. That idea didn't go much of anywhere," said Graeme Lang, 42, a pilot for the Kentucky Department of Aviation. "Mom and Dad have wanted to go to England for a while. Flying there seemed much more feasible."
The Langs will fly the trip in segments: Georgetown to Quebec province, Canada; then to Baffin Island, Canada; across to Greenland; over to Iceland; south to the Outer Hebrides, Scotland; and then to Conington, England. The trip will take about a week.
Their route will be north of that used by commercial aircraft.
"This is a sightseeing trip. It's about the trip, not the destination. So we're not in a hurry to get over there," Gray Lang said.
Gray Lang's wife, Missy, is taking a commercial flight to England on Thursday. The couple intend to stay for a month. Because they plan to attend Ascot Racecourse, where women dress elegantly, a large green hat box from the Keeneland Shop will travel in the back of the Beechcraft. The box contains a hat Missy plans to wear to Ascot. "That's priority cargo," Gray Lang said.
Upon reaching England, Graeme Lang will turn around and come right back home. At the end of June, he will take a commercial flight to England to help his father make the return flight to Georgetown.
Gray Lang, whose father was a Navy pilot, started flying as a child. He's had a pilot license for 48 years and has logged nearly 5,600 hours of flight time.
Gray Lang has owned aviation courier companies specializing in transporting items such as medical supplies or film that had to be at destinations within hours, so he's used to handling details. But this trip has required a lot more planning than he imagined when he came up with the idea, he said.
Gray Lang hired an experienced East Coast ferry pilot, Ed Carlson, who lives in Massachusetts, to come to Lexington three weeks ago to give a one-day briefing on what to expect. Carlson stressed making sure that the Langs understand each country's requirements for landing and taking off.
"Flying over Canada is pretty easy, much like it is here," Gray Lang said. "But when you cross into countries controlled by the European Union, requirements are quite a bit more stringent."
For example, EU countries want substantially higher insurance coverage for aircraft coming in from another country. It took a while, but the Langs finally located an insurance carrier in Tennessee that specializes in international aviation coverage.
Carlson also impressed on the Langs that it's important to call ahead to alert an airport of your arrival and make sure fuel will be available, Graeme Lang said.
Above all, the duo has to carefully check the weather. "There may be a couple of legs where we could encounter delays because of rain, freezing temperatures or low visibility," Gray Lang said. If the weather doesn't look good, "we'll wait it out," he said.
Greenland offers a small number of places to land. "If you get over there and find you can't land because of weather, there aren't a lot of options," Graeme Lang said. "You have to make sure you can land in Greenland before you leave Canada"
An emergency transmitter is attached to the plane. On board, the Langs will have a satellite phone, an electronic locator and another emergency transmitter. They will also carry an inflatable life raft and waterproof survival suits, which have not yet arrived, in case they have to make an emergency water landing.
The trip will be delayed if the survival suits don't arrive by Saturday morning. "We're not going without them," Gray Lang said.
When they do take off, the pilots will carry the good wishes of friends for blue skies and tailwinds.