"Indo Asian News Service" on the 11th of June

Sunday June 11, 10:01 AM

A trip across the globe from World Cup land

By Ranjana Narayan, Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) At a time when World Cup fever is gripping Germany, a German father-son duo have chosen a different kind of thrill - to fly around the world in a single engine turboprop aircraft.

For Ulf Muhlbacher and his son Matthias, who stopped by this week in the Indian capital - the fourth stop in their trip to 27 cities across the world - the World Cup being held in Germany is a major event, but their adventure is 'more important'.

The Muhlbachers have clocked 5,500 km since they left Bremen May 31 on their six-seater Piper PA46 Malibu, touching Istanbul, Tehran and Dubai before they reached New Delhi June 7.

'We can catch up on major matches on television on our stops,' said Ulf, 57, a real estate developer and a Rotarian. Ulf, for whom flying is a passion, has already clocked 1,600 flying hours.

The duo, who call themselves 'Earthrounders', plan to cover 36,000 km during their journey which will also see them going to Japan, Russia, the US and Iceland before they reach Bremen on Aug 5.

'We shall be in Tokyo on July 9 - the day the soccer final is held in Berlin - and watch the match on television,' said 20-year-old Matthias, who, like most German youths, plays soccer with friends.

Matthias, who is a trained pilot but has no license, provides crucial help to his father during the flight by keeping contact with the ground controllers.

The flight plan was charted out meticulously well in advance, avoiding flights across large expanse of seas. Landing permissions from the various countries they touched down on had to be obtained, as well as permits to fly over some countries. Hotels had to be booked well in advance. To fly to New Delhi from Dubai, they had to first get permission from Pakistan to fly over, said Ulf.

The propeller-driven aircraft, fitted with a capacity to carry an additional 250 litres of petrol, can now hold 800 litres which takes their flying range to 2,700 km at a stretch, said Ulf. The aircraft can fly at an altitude of 8,500 metres, he said.

During their India halt, the Muhlbachers visited the Taj Mahal at Agra.

'It is a place you have to go to when in India, isn't it so?' said Ulf, adding he found the Indian summer a 'little hot'.

The only jarring note in India, said Ulf, was the 'bureaucratic red tape'.

'India is a difficult place to land. There is a lot of bureaucracy and it is very expensive. There are too many official papers to fill up, which we don't even understand. We kept a handling agent who did all the paperwork and running around and a supervisor to see that he was doing the job properly. It proved too expensive,' he said. Japan was another country as 'complicated', he said.

During their stops, Ulf, the president of his Rotary club, will meet with the local Rotarians.

The Muhlbachers, who left for Nepal Saturday, plan to visit a leprosy hospital funded by the Rotary club in Bremen.

'I want to see how far the hospital has progressed,' said Ulf, who has funded the entire trip, estimated to cost $50,000.

Crossing the mighty Himalayas to reach Kathmandu would not be a problem for his aircraft, said Ulf.

And when he completes the trip, his name would be among the select list of 'Earthrounders' - a few adventurous people like him who cross the world for the 'challenge of it' and to see the world in an 'unusual way'.

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