West Palm Beach resident Julie Wang didn’t learn to fly until she came to the U.S. five years ago. But learning wasn’t enough.
The 42-year-old former advertising professional went on to become a flight instructor and to start her own flight school, Zulutime Pilot at Witham Field in Stuart, specializing in bilingual teaching, helping aspiring Chinese pilots master English and aviation.
Her latest feat: a solo flight around the world, making her the ninth woman to do so and the first Chinese national.
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She needed a challenge, she said.
Wang grew up around planes, with both parents aerospace engineering professionals. But after five years of training and regimentation, she wanted to get out of her comfort zone and feel the exuberance that French author and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery expressed in his classic novel, The Little Prince.
On top of that, she said, she recognized that aviation had not matured as an interest for Chinese citizens and she wanted to make a statement about what’s real and what’s possible. Prior to her trip, only eight women had flown solo around the world, none of them Chinese.
“So let’s do it,” she told herself.
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She set off from Texas on Aug. 17, paused for 20 days in California to reconfigure the fuel tanks before setting out across the Pacific, making it back on Sept. 19. In 18 days of flying the single-engine Cirrus SR-22, she covered more than 24,000 miles in 155 hours of flight, over 24 countries, burning through $30,000 of fuel, a cost covered by sponsors.
The longest leg was from Merced, Calif. to Honolulu, 14 hours of nonstop flying. She later also endured a 29-hour stretch without sleeping, hop-scotching from Portugal’s Azores Islands to Canada.
The only country that gave her trouble with the fly-over was mild-mannered Canada, where customs hadn’t received the paperwork head’s-up for her arrival. Confusion resolved, she crossed into Maine and, relieved to be back in the U.S., put her head down for a short nap at a private terminal in Bangor and woke up eight hours later.
Among the highlights of her adventure was a stop on Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands, thought to be where Amelia Earhart crashed in 1937. The locals spoke to her about the Earhart stories, she said. “They really love aviation culture,” she said.
“When I took off from the runway, it was a really hot day, but all the people came to watch me take off.”