Mission possible: BGSU alumni land in 48 states in fewer than 48 hours in successful world-record attempt
Barry Behnfeldt ‘83 and Aaron Wilson ‘04 achieved remarkable feat in 44 hours
By Laren Kowalczyk ‘07
Two Bowling Green State University alumni achieved their world-record attempt of the fastest journey by plane through all 48 contiguous United States, completing the cross-country voyage in 44 hours and 16 minutes and inspiring a new generation of pilots along the way.
Barry Behnfeldt ‘83 and his co-pilot Aaron Wilson ‘04 landed at the Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine, at 6:42 p.m. on June 6 to a group of locals who arrived to celebrate the pair’s remarkable achievement.
Behnfeldt and Wilson executed their meticulously-planned 5,008-mile trek across the U.S. nearly four hours ahead of their original goal of 48 hours, experiencing near-perfect conditions throughout the entire two days. They called their journey 48N48.
The pilots chronicled their 48-state journey on Facebook, with regular updates on the weather, picturesque views from the sky and the latest on their schedule. They amassed a loyal following of fans and aviation enthusiasts, who shared encouraging messages online and gathered at airports to celebrate their arrival.
The pair received signatures at each stop to verify their presence. Those signatures and additional documentation will be reviewed by officials at Guinness World Records before Behnfeldt and Wilson officially are deemed world-record holders.
48 States in 48 Hours - Guinness World Record flight attempt by BGSU alumni pilots
Inspiring the next generation
Although the initial goal was to set a world record, Behnfeldt and Wilson said the experience evolved into something more meaningful.
“We began this quest to set a Guinness World Record, but everything that has occurred throughout this experience is far above holding a world record,” Behnfeldt said.
Wilson agreed and said arriving to excited groups of children cheering them on provided the motivation they needed to continue toward their goal.
“It was really moving and not something we expected,” he said. “There were crowds of people waiting to see us pull in, waving and cheering for us. I saw myself in those kids. I remember how excited I was when I saw an airplane as a kid.
“I think we inspired some people to look into taking lessons at their local airport or even enroll in a university aviation program like BGSU.”
As home to the largest aviation program in Ohio, BGSU is committed to meeting workforce demands in the aviation industry through partnerships, expanded facilities and modernization of its fleet. The University also recently approved the creation of a School of Aviation in the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering (CTAAE).
Leading up to and during the world-record attempt, the crew raised awareness and funds for a nonprofit organization called Veterans Airlift Command, which provides private air transportation to combat-wounded veterans. Behnfeldt said he expects donations to reach $25,000.
Day 1: Michigan to Kansas
Behnfeldt and Wilson, both Delta Air Lines pilots and veterans with a combined 70 years of military and commercial flying experience, departed from Berrien Springs, Michigan, at 9:48 p.m. on June 4 in Behnfeldt’s 1980 Piper Saratoga six-seat airplane.
The pair and their onboard mechanic, U.S. Navy veteran Thomas Twiddy, headed west toward the mountains.
Gusty winds slowed the team down initially, but they made up the time and were ahead of schedule by their seventh stop in Pierre, South Dakota. The trip continued as planned through Montana, Idaho and Washington, with Behnfeldt showing off his Falcon pride by donning BGSU socks throughout the trip.
There was a small snag at the Lake County Airport in Oregon with no one on-site to verify their presence, a requirement of Guinness World Records.
Behnfeldt said the resourceful dispatchers at the control center at the Henry County Airport in Napoleon, Ohio, reached out to the local police, who sent an officer to the airport to sign the required documentation.
After leaving Oregon, the crew spent 18 minutes in the air before landing in Modoc County, California, and beginning the trek back east through Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
In Coffeyville, Kansas, about 40 residents were awaiting Behnfeldt and Wilson’s arrival around 11:30 p.m. on June 5, which boosted the crew’s morale as that stop marked roughly 26 hours into their journey.
One Facebook follower noted that her daughter added pilot to her list of future occupations, inspired by Behnfeldt and Wilson.
“I could see it in that little girl’s eyes as she stood on the runway late at night,” Behnfeldt said. “Those kids will never forget that. I remember that as a kid, and things like that stick with you for the rest of your life. That’s just awesome to bring that experience to so many people.”
Day 2: Missouri to Maine
The crew continued overnight and into the early morning hours of June 6, making stops in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Mike Sidel, a meteorologist from The Weather Channel, joined the 48N48 crew in Crestview, Florida, en route to Atlanta.
Delta Air Lines leadership signed off on the arrival of Behnfeldt and Wilson at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a show of support from the pair’s employer.
After Atlanta, Behnfeldt and Wilson headed through the Carolinas and north to Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. They made stops in Virginia and West Virginia before beginning the final leg of their trip along the East Coast.
The crew refueled in Frederick, Maryland, around 1:30 p.m. and were met by a Veterans Airlift Command advisory board member who wanted to show his support for the 48N48 team.
“That was probably the second most incredible experience of the journey,” Behnfeldt said. “He’s a combat-wounded veteran and also a pilot. It meant a lot that he came out to support us.”
Behnfeldt and Wilson continued on, stopping in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
They departed Hartness State Airport in Springfield, Vermont, around 6 p.m. for a roughly 44-minute flight to their final destination in Portland, Maine.
“Right now, I’m really excited, but it hasn’t sunk in yet what we’ve accomplished,” Wilson said. “I think we’ve proven that if you put your mind to something and set a goal, you can achieve whatever you set out to do, even if it involves crazy feats of endurance.”
Behnfeldt also attributes the success of the mission to detailed planning and a committed team of supporters, from those at the control center in Napoleon to each person who greeted them along their journey.
“We put our efforts into calculation and coordination, which allowed us to execute our plan relatively flawlessly,” he said. “We also had an incredible team supporting us, helping to navigate the few small hiccups we encountered. The excitement from those following our journey has been incredible. It’s pretty surreal.”
Celebration at BG Flight Center
A celebration for Behnfeldt and Wilson will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 10, at the Bowling Green Flight Center.
The pilots will share more about their journey and will answer questions. Participants can take photos with the plane Behnfeldt and Wilson flew across the country.
Registration is not required.
Updated: 06/07/2023 04:09PM