|Wei Chen, first Chinese citizen to fly around the world in a single-engine plane. PHOTO BY AARON LURTH
Sometimes dreams do come true.
Just ask Wei Chen.
Chen dreamed of becoming a pilot as a high school student in China. But he wasn’t chosen for the military training and he gave up that dream.
More than 20 years later, however, that dream of flight was revived when Chen, now living in the United States, was offered a ride in a friend’s plane in 2006.
“As soon as we landed, I knew I wanted to be a pilot,” he said.
Chen started flight training, earning his private pilot’s certificate in November 2007. In 2008, he added his instrument rating.
And in 2009, he decided to become the first Chinese citizen to fly around the world in a single-engine airplane.
On May 22, after about 18 months of planning and research, he took off from Memphis, Tennessee, in his Socata TBM 700 with about 450 hours in his logbook.
He’ll return to Memphis on July 29, ending a 10-week journey spanning 21 countries and more than 40 cities.
Chen’s route took him from Memphis to Washington, D.C. to New York, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Oman, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, China, Russia, Alaska, Canada, California and Wisconsin.
Chen, president of Sunshine Enterprise Inc., a construction material company in Memphis, said while the trip has been relatively smooth, there have been a few bumps along the way.
The day before he departed, for instance, a volcano in Iceland erupted, closing airports and airspace in Greenland and Iceland, two of his earlier stops.
The ash cloud delayed his trip a few days as he waited for it to dissipate, but he was able to fly south and below most of the ash.
Along the route, he was greeted with soldiers holding guns, confusion whether he would really get clearance to land in China and some transition problems between handlers that left him wondering where and when he would land.
While his itinerary didn’t initially include a stop in Oshkosh for AirVenture, Chen said he added it once he realized the fly-in convention was the same week he hoped to finish his round-the-world trip.
His trip is also raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He hopes to raise $250,000, and had raised $125,000 at an event before he left.
His adopted community of Memphis has embraced him, planning a welcome home reception for Chen and his plane this weekend: “The Memphis Wei.”
“I’ve been very blessed,” he said. “The whole city has been pulling together for this trip. To have such community support is amazing.”
Much like making your dreams come true.