Chasing dreams across the sky
On the morning of 27 August 2016, 18-year-old Lachlan Smart landed at Maroochydore on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to become the youngest person to fly a single-engine plane, solo around the world. Now he’s on a mission to encourage others to “think like a kid” and push their personal boundaries.
Lachie Smart reckons he’s always loved flying. Growing up in Nambour, Queensland, one of his earliest memories was when he was two years old and his mum, to pass the time, would take him to the nearby airport.
“We’d sit there for hours, sharing a bucket of chips, watching planes take off and land,” Lachie says. “I couldn’t believe my eyes that anything like that could get off the ground. I just loved the planes and decided one day I would end up in the cockpit.”
On his 14th birthday, his father gave him an introductory flight lesson as a gift. “The second I put my hands on those controls,” Lachie says, “I knew I was going to be a pilot.”
“At the time, you couldn’t fly solo until you were 16,” Lachie explains. “And we didn’t have the money either and I had to find a way to fund my lessons. I worked a lot and got a scholarship. I didn’t really start until I was 15, but once I did, there was no turning back.
“I was also very passionate about trying to motivate people my age to take on big challenges. I’d see my friends go, ‘I want to do this one day’ and I’d say, ‘Great, go on and do it then.’ They would go, ‘No, I’ll do it when I’m older.’
“We use that excuse because we think people won’t believe in us. That’s because we don’t believe in ourselves since we’re so young and inexperienced. But the truth is we can have these amazing ideas and challenges, we just need the tenacity to follow them through and the will to put in hard work.”
Lachie began casting about for a way to show his peers that anything is achievable, even at a young age. Then in October 2013, he sat down with his mum to watch an episode of 60 Minutes titled “Flyin’ Ryan”. A month earlier, 19-year-old Ryan Campbell, from Merimbula, NSW, had entered the Guinness World Records as the youngest person to fly solo around the world.
As soon as I saw that I said, “Mum, I’m going to fly around the world. And she said, ‘Okay Lachie, sure,’ in that way that mothers do without sounding condescending, but at the same time without enthusiastically encouraging you.”
So Lachie secretly began planning his adventure. “At first I didn’t tell anyone, certainly not the media. There was a lot of logistical planning. After a year-and-a-half I had a team behind me, had started fundraising and announced it through the media. It was a big challenge.”
Lachie had just turned 16 when he made his first solo flight. After dropping off his flying instructor he requested a new clearance from the tower. “I taxied out and pushed the throttle forward. The plane felt different because it had less weight in it, just me on my own. There’s so much adrenaline because I knew if I did something wrong, there was no instructor to help me. Suddenly I was in the air, banking around, flying the circuit and coming back down. I absolutely nailed the landing, which I was so excited about. My first solo is one of the moments I’m most proud of.”
Fast forward to 4 July 2016 as Lachie prepares to depart from Maroochydore on his circumnavigation flight. Two years earlier, Ryan Campbell’s record had been pipped by 11 days, by American pilot Matt Gutmiller, who completed his flight aged 19 years, 7 months and 15 days old.
Lachie recalls how he felt as he stepped into the cockpit of his Cirrus SR22. “I believed in myself 100 per cent, but there were so many variables that could go wrong. Natural disasters could have wiped out an area I was supposed to land in, or political situations might change and war could break out. They might run out of fuel in one of my stops, all of these things had to be taken into account.
“I was never sure the flight would go ahead until four o’clock in the morning when I started up the engine and 310-horsepower kicked to life. I pushed that throttle forward and the plane hurtled down the runway and took off for Fiji.”
In just under two months, Lachie returned to Maroochydore, having flown 44,000 kilometres, stopped in 15 countries and nailed the Guinness World Record.
One of his most memorable legs was departing England from Biggin Hill Airfield, made famous during World War II. Lachie had spent the nine days prior to departure relaxing with his family while his plane was serviced. “I also got to play around the rebuilt Spitfires they’ve got there. I was like a kid in a candy store. My great grandfather Raymond Bavinton actually flew a Spitfire out of Biggin Hill.
“I was feeling fresh and excited and took off on a perfect day. I climbed to 2,000 feet and circled above the White Cliffs of Dover. It was on my bucket list because when my great grandfather returned from air-to-air combat, he would see those white cliffs and know he would be home. It was pretty special to see those same cliffs from my own aircraft that I’d flow halfway around the world.”
Lachie feels that the flight changed him “in every conceivable way,” he says. “It gave me confidence to take on bigger and better challenges. Whether it was huge storms in the Pacific, the worry of getting shot down in Egypt or authorities threatening to arrest me in Sri Lanka, I had to work through each one. I saw each as a learning opportunity that would shape me into a more rounded person. It taught me to grow up and that every challenge can be overcome if you have the mind to do it.”
Since the flight, Lachie has taken on public speaking at schools, universities and, most recently, corporations. “I encourage executive teams and staff members to ‘think like a kid’. Sometimes youthful naivety is what you need to take on a challenge. Often, experience will narrow your vision to the point where you think, ‘I’m not capable of doing this, whereas if you take the youthful naïve approach, you discover that you really are capable of achieving it.”
And yes, Lachie is still flying. He’s teamed up with Ryan Campbell and later this year the pair will participate in a rally to fly an open cockpit biplane from the southern tip of South America to Florida, in the USA. The adventure continues!