In December 2015, amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Steve Dengler and his father Bob sat down to plan what they later named the C150 Global Odyssey (aka C150GO) — a circumnavigation of the globe by helicopter, flown by Canadians in a Canadian aircraft to mark the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.
Entrepreneurs by trade and pilots by passion, Steve and Bob have more than two decades of recreational fixed-wing and helicopter flying experience between them. Bob initially floated the idea of undertaking the first Canadian circumnavigation of the world by helicopter back in 2013, and Steve followed it up by suggesting they attempt another record: the first-ever father-son circumnavigation of the globe.
They started with extensive planning, working closely with Bell Helicopters in Montreal — who provided the Bell 429 aircraft that Steve, Bob, and their co-pilot Dugal MacDuff flew on the trip.
‘C150GO took 48 days to fly, but 547 to plan,’ Steve says. ‘The planning was undoubtedly the single biggest factor in our trip, with a lot of technical number-crunching using flight-planning software to ensure that all legs were viable and that the required services were available en route.’
A big part of that planning? Spidertracks, who came on board early as proud supporters of C150GO’s record-breaking trip and mission to raise money for both Southlake Hospital (Canada’s leading cancer care centre) and True Patriot Love (a charity supporting Canadian veterans and their families).
As C150GO’s flight tracking solution and safety management tool, Spidertracks helped keep the trio of pilots safe from the day they departed — Canada Day on July 1, 2017 — to the day they successfully completed their 37,000-kilometre trek.
Steve says the software drastically improved C150GO’s overall safety profile and calls the Spider a ‘game-changer’ for their mission, citing its real-time tracking capabilities as a boon for their fans and followers, who were able to track their every move and see where they've been and where they were headed.
Spidertracks also gave their mission-control home team full visibility over metrics such as groundspeed, allowing them to more efficiently communicate ETA with the fixed-base operators (FBOs) at each destination. But the most valuable Spidertracks feature, as far as the intrepid Canadians were concerned, was Spidertxt.
‘It was an amazing feeling to know that wherever we went, no matter how remote a place, we were always being watched over by our followers and our mission control. Perhaps the best detail of our Spider, though, was the ability to send real-time text messages through the satellite system,’ Steve notes.
Those remote places he mentioned? They were numerous, spanning huge swaths of wilderness over Russia and Alaska, as well as uninhabited parts of the pilots’ native Canada. Along the way, they hit every provincial and territorial capital in their homeland save Victoria, British Columbia, due to an unprecedentedly dangerous forest fire season that made it impossible to safely set down.
Those kinds of weather considerations proved consistent across the trip, forcing the trio to make on-the-go adjustments to their flight schedule.
‘We were always at the mercy of the weather,’ Steve recalls. ‘We spent five days grounded in Iqaluit — a blessing in disguise, as we got to know an amazing and vibrant northern Canadian community. But when the weather was with us, we made incredible time. Our route through Russia was 11,000 kilometres, and we did it in only 11 days.’
Making allowances and alterations to accommodate for the weather contributed to the biggest lesson Steve learned on the self-proclaimed odyssey: to not over prepare.
‘It’s counter-intuitive, and it may sound crazy at first — but trust me, it’s not,’ he says. ‘I put enormous energy into creating and maintaining a ‘master schedule,’ but I kept having to readjust it and communicate that to all affected parties down the line. What we should’ve done was just focus on flying the route safely, never committing to anything until the day before and letting people follow us through Spidertracks. That’s what I’ll do next time!’
As for whether or not that ‘next time’ is on the horizon, Steve offers an optimistic maybe and says he’s already begun exploring a fixed-wing polar circumnavigation with his own sons — and he hopes Spidertracks will join them for the journey.
‘We were completely blown away by our Spider — and since the circumnavigation, we’ve been recommending Spidertracks to pilots across North America and around the world. It’s also become a permanent addition to the helicopter!’