The New York Times
December 17, 2000, Sunday
Round-the-World Flight Kept Aloft by Dreams and Duct Tape
''The wheels come up,'' said Daniel Dominguez. ''We see
the St. John's airport below, and I look back and say,
'My God, we're actually doing this.' That was when this
whole thing really hit me.''
On Sept. 15, after years of planning, Mr. Dominguez and
a friend and fellow pilot, Christopher Wall, both
22-year-old college students, left Newfoundland for a
three-month trip around the world in their refurbished
1957 twin-engine Aero Commander 560E. When they returned
to Rochester on Friday, they became, unofficially, the
youngest crew ever to circumnavigate the globe.
Mr. Dominguez said the two, who grew up together in El
Paso, dreamed up the idea of the flight in a dingy bar
in Juarez, Mexico, when they were 17.
''Chris and I always wanted to fly,'' he said.
''Apparently, when I was 7 years old, I told my mother
that I was going to fly around the world in my own
plane. She and my father traveled all over Mexico and
Central America as kids in a VW bus, so they never told
me that I couldn't do it.''
The day he turned 17, Mr. Dominguez passed the test for
his private pilot's license, and several months later,
he said, he and Mr. Wall ''took a mind-blowing flight to
Ketchikan, Alaska, in a Cessna two-seater.''
At this point, Mr. Wall chimed in. ''Because of Alaska,
we made the decision to go around the world,'' he said.
''The next morning, we said, 'How the hell are we really
going to do this?' ''
When they tried to find sponsors for the project, they
were told they needed to have legal nonprofit status. It
took them two years to put together the Global
Advancement Foundation, in early 1998.
It was and continues to be essentially a two-man
operation. Mr. Wall, then an electrical engineering
student at Rice University in Houston, and Mr.
Dominguez, an economics major at the University of
Rochester, persuaded officials at the Rochester school
to donate a small office and a phone line. Then they
began planning the project and raising money in earnest.
''No one would back us without a plane,'' Mr. Wall said.
''I began to settle on the Aero Commander. You could get
them for a good price, even if they're kind of beat up.
They take off easily and can carry the equivalent of a
Jeep. And they look cool.''
A year ago, while searching on the Internet, Mr. Wall
found his prey, grounded derelict on an airfield in
Guthrie, Okla. ''The paint was peeling, the interior was dead, it
hadn't been flown in a year,'' he said. ''But it was
only selling for $15,000. I called Dan and said, 'Dude,
I found our airplane.' ''
Mr. Dominguez said he took a bus to Oklahoma, ''and
there's the ugliest plane I've ever seen.''
''It had been a drug-running plane in Miami,'' he went
on. ''The owner got caught, then got himself killed.''
Using student loans and credit cards, the two set up a
Delaware corporation, bought the plane and christened it
Mr. Wall was so devoted to the project that he drove 700
miles from Rice to Oklahoma every weekend to work on the
''I'd work all weekend, then try to make it back to
school so I didn't flunk out,'' he said. ''I got her
together enough to fly to Rochester and got a one-way
permit from an F.A.A. guy who swore when we bought her
that she'd never fly again.''
But Mr. Wall had not tested the gas tanks. Just before
takeoff, they discovered that, in the plane's earlier
life, one wing tank had been removed to store drugs.
''We put 156 gallons in the center tank,'' Mr. Dominguez
said, ''and it starts to leak down the side. But we had
to get to Rochester. We didn't have any more money for
gas. A little duct tape, a wing and a prayer, we got in
Once in Rochester, Mr. Wall took a year off from Rice
while Mr. Dominguez continued his studies. Both prepared
for their round-the world flight. ''We'd be out on the
airfield sunrise to sunset,'' Mr. Dominguez said.
''Chris would be doing airplane
mechanics and I'd be flight-instructing in my spare
Their dream was taking shape. ''It was students who made
it happen,'' Mr. Wall said. ''We made it a school
project. We would also invite our friends out, have a
case of beer, and we stripped and polished her, tore out
the interior, tuned the engines, all new hoses,
With what he called ''huge help'' from two students,
Jennifer Powers and Elizabeth Ann Begy, the project put
up a Web site, worldflight2000.org.
Despite all the work, the project continued to struggle
financially. Mr. Wall and Mr. Dominguez began giving
speeches at schools. ''We're trying to encourage all
these kids to make their dreams happen,'' Mr. Dominguez
said. ''But what do you say to a third grader who asks
what you're going to do when you run out of money?''
The question weighed heavily until the young pilots flew
the Dreamcatcher to an air show in Oshkosh, Wis., in
Attended by more than 500,000 people, the event was
their best shot at publicity. ''They gave us a spot near
the center,'' said Mr. Dominguez. ''And our
photographer, Jesse Weisz, ran around letting everyone
know what we were doing and getting us all sorts of
sponsors. We got $21,000 in camera gear from Rowe Photo
in Rochester, Garmin gave us radios and global
positioning equipment, and an engine mechanic from
Tennessee named Nick Carter offered us a $25,000 engine
overhaul, which we found out we desperately needed. We
easily had over $100,000 in equipment and service
donated to us.''
Now, the project was gear rich but still cash poor. Its
saving grace came in August when Mr. Dominguez, sleeping
under a table in his flight office, got a call from the
president of America Online, Robert W. Pittman. ''I'm
there in my boxers, and AOL offers us enough sponsorship
to make this thing happen,'' Mr. Dominguez recalled. ''I
He paused. ''But as I said before, none of this really
hit me until we were out there over the Atlantic.
Suddenly, I became incredibly aware of everything we had
sacrificed to get here, and of my own mortality.''
From Newfoundland, he and Mr. Wall flew to the Azores,
Barcelona, Spain, Rome, Greece, Cairo, Oman, Bahrain,
India, Bali, Australia, Vanuatu and Hawaii and made
their return to the United States mainland on Dec. 6,
when they landed at tiny Half Moon Bay airport in
Both men said they lived as aerial vagabonds, flying a
plane that had one wing in the 1950's, and one in the
21st century. One night they slept in hammocks under the
Dreamcatcher's wings, the next in a $400 a night hotel
room that a benefactor had paid for on the Greek island
They said they watched the sun rise from inside the
Coliseum in Rome, had machine guns pointed at them by
anxious guards at an airport in Cairo, and toured the
pyramids by camel later in the day.
When an engine failed over the Red Sea, they were forced
to dump about $1,000 worth of fuel, turn around and make
an emergency landing on the Egyptian coast. Later, they
spoke to 1,000 schoolchildren at one time in
Bhubaneshwar, India, snorkled in the Great Barrier Reef
off the coast of Australia and surfed off Oahu, in
''As you fly around the world, your mind opens up and
you realize what a small world it really is,'' Mr. Wall
said. ''After seeing what I have seen, I want to see so
Mr. Dominguez added: ''I suppose the main thing that
we've learned is that anything is possible. Dare to have
a dream. Even if you fail, you'll have a hell of a story