At a time when many of his peers are enjoying the lazy days of summer, high school student Matthew Gougeon will be chasing a record for youngest solo flight across the country.
The 16-year-old from Collingwood, Ont., is planning to take off on Friday for a spectacular low-altitude journey across the country. He’ll fly up to nine hours a day, none of it with autopilot, and is expecting fatigue to be his biggest challenge.
He will be alone in the cockpit of a Cessna 182 equipped with both floats and wheels. His father will be nearby, flying another plane.
“I think the fact that my dad will be alongside has made [my parents] a lot more comfortable,” Mr. Gougeon said in an interview from Sudbury, Ont., where he spends part of the year, as he took a break from final preparations.
He believes he will be the youngest yet to make the journey. “In all my research, I couldn’t find people flying across the country in their teens,” he said.
The trip is the culmination of years of training, and began with a youthful dream to make his mark in the record books.
The teenager remembers taking the controls from his father when he was only seven. He began taking flight training at 13, and flew alone for the first time two years ago. Last summer, he passed his private-pilot written test and, two weeks later, earned his float-plane rating.
He said on Monday that the idea for the cross-country trip came to him at 13, when he was sitting in his room thinking about how to set a record. But the stars didn’t align until now. He’s found a few sponsors who are covering most of the roughly $12,000 budget, the bulk of which will be spent on fuel, and is soliciting donations to the Neil Armstrong Fund, which helps young people learn to fly.
Early Tuesday, he was going to leave Sudbury and, flying solo, head west to the British Columbia coast.
On Friday, he will turn around and set out again, bound for Nova Scotia with his father. They will divide the country into chunks about three-hours flying time long. Each day, they will tackle two or three, typically at about 3,000 feet.
Setting out from the B.C. town of Tofino, Mr. Gougeon will fly inland and thread through the Rockies before crossing the Prairies. He will take in some of the thousands of lakes dotting Northern Ontario and then the agricultural heartland of Quebec before entering Atlantic Canada. He is hoping to land in Halifax about a week after departure.
He’s particularly anticipating seeing the mountains again.
“I’ve really only flown through the Rockies once in a private plane, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that.”
Rest will help him focus in the air. Aware that no one can concentrate fully for hours on end, he is planning to vary his on-board routine. And to help pass the time, he will pack his iPod, which has “a massive playlist.”
So far they hadn’t packed the chemical urinals often carried on small planes.
“I guess [I’ll] wait three hours and hope for the best,” Mr. Gougeon laughed. “Though after three hours I guess there’ll be an empty water bottle.”