The Witness

Want to set a record-breaking flight? You’ll need an observer from the National Aeronautic Association.

Art Greenfield with the Spirit of Freedom capsule in which Steve Fossett circled the globe alone in 2002. (Eric Long)
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Greenfield: It’s such an outstanding performance that it’s still on the books—ever since October 22, 1938. 

A&S: Tell me about a record attempt you witnessed.

Greenfield: I’ve seen a lot. You may have read about one that was set last year. It was by Arnold Ebneter, and he flew from Payne Field in Everett, Washington, nonstop to Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was observer on the landing end of that flight. He was flying a homebuilt of his own design. And he had been working on the design for literally decades, and he finally made it. He’s 82 years old. It was 2,327 miles; it was an 18 hour and 25 minute flight. I walked up to him as he was getting out of the airplane, and the first thing he said was, “I’m never doing that again.” And he won’t have to for a while. He broke a record that was set in 1984 [by American Frank Hertzler in a Vari-Eze], so the record had been on the books for a long time. And it was in [class] C1A, which is from 661 to 1,102 pounds [the longest nonstop flight in a small aircraft, less than 500 kilograms]. That was on July 26, 2010. He had been attempting this for four or five years, until he finally got the right weather for it. So that was a long time coming. He was waiting for the longest day, because he wanted to do it in the summertime when the daylight hours were the longest. 

A&S: Do a lot of people try and break multiple records, or are they like this man, who tried multiple times to break a single record?

Greenfield: I think this one was a little unusual for someone to have gone after it so many times. I don’t think he actually launched any of the other years. I think that a lot of people, once they’ve done it, it kind of gets in their blood. They make one record attempt, and then they really take a liking to it, and start looking for other records to go after. 

A&S: Since you’re in charge of the records, do you get first dibs on witnessing attempts?

Greenfield: I can’t say yes to that, because I’d have 10 other people who would be upset if I did! When we assign the observer we try to find someone with expertise in that particular area, and also we want to make sure that the observer is independent and doesn’t have an interest in the record that’s being attempted. 

A&S: About the city-to-city records: Why do you think they’re so popular? Is it an easier record to break?

Greenfield: I think, generally speaking, it can be done over a normal, fairly routine flight with a little extra planning, and probably that’s the reason. 

A&S: What sort of time commitment is it? When you went to witness the Fredericksburg flight, how long did that take?

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