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First solo around-the-world helicopter flight completed

By
MICHAEL OBEL

HURST, Texas -- An Australian adventurer Friday landed in north central Texas amid a swirl of reporters, family and friends, Iuccessfully completing the first-ever solo, around-the-world flight in a helicopter.

Dick Smith, 39, who owns an electronics firm in Sydney, landed at 10:30 a.m. CDT, 320 flight hours after he left on the adventure Aug. 5, 1982.

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He was greeted at the heliport -- located next to the Bell Helicopter plant between Dallas and Fort Worth -- by his wife Pip, their two daughters and about 300 supporters.

Dubbed the 'Australian Explorer,' Smith's Bell JetRanger III glided into the merry scene after a short morning flight from Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle, the last leg of the long, lonely journey. Smith flew the single engine aircraft across three continents and two oceans.

Since he left Hurst almost a year ago, he has set two records: for the first solo helicopter flight across the Atlantic Ocean and for the longest solo flight in any aircraft. With today's landing, he became the first person to circle the world alone in a helicopter.

'The flight was like a magic carpet ride around the world, but I'd never do it again,' he said from Amarillo, his last stop before the end of the 34,200 nautical mile adventure.

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'I was very frightened and very lonely because I completely underestimated how bad the weather would be.'

Perhaps the worst weather came near Burma, between India and Thailand, he said.

'It was like flying in a waterfall,' he said. 'I found a beach and put down only to find I had landed in quicksand. The helicopter started to turn over before I managed to get her into the air again.'

Smith hopes to cover the trip's $150,000 cost through films he has taken during the trip and a book he will write.

His well publicized trip prompted H. Ross Perot Jr. and Jay Coburn, both of Dallas, to try and match him last fall. Thirty days after takeoff, they had become the first twosome to circle the globe in a helicopter.

Unlike Smith, however, Perot engaged an escort helicopter, used a larger helicopter than Smith and attached floats to it, the Sydney, Australia, resident said.

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