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

and went.''


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,

electronics, everything.''


With what he called ''huge help'' from two students,

Jennifer Powers and Elizabeth Ann Begy, the project put

up a Web site,


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

late July.


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

was floored.''


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

of Rhodes.


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

much more.''


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

to tell.''