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Julie Wang not only realized a childhood dream of becoming an aviator, but in doing so, she also made history by becoming the first Chinese pilot to circumnavigate the globe.
She prepared to ditch. While soloing her single-engine Cirrus from the Marshall Islands to Guam, she kept a watchful eye on the plane’s gauges and instruments, ready to pop the parachute in the event of an emergency.
The fuel she had reserved in the capital of Majuro for the lengthy leg of the trip turned out to have more lead in it than the fuel her SR22 aircraft regularly burned—an issue that could cause an engine stall in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
“I was not scared, not at all,” she remembers. “I just said to myself, ‘Do your thing. Don’t imagine a scenario that does not exist, but be prepared if it does.’”
Julie Wang never had to eject, and this summer she became the first Chinese pilot to fly around the world. The West Palm Beach resident and Stuart flight instructor departed from Addison, Texas, Aug. 17 and returned there Sept. 19, logging almost 24,000 miles, mostly above open water.
“I needed a new challenge to make myself better,” Wang, 44, says. “I said, ‘Fly around the world. That is the thing to do.’”
So she did. The owner of Zulutime Pilot—a flight school at Witham Field specializing in bilingual instruction for Chinese students—trained for the journey by flying around the U.S. for 14 days. Prior to that, she obtained private-, multi-engine- and commercial-plane certifications and then earned approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to become a teacher. She has logged 1,800 hours of flight time since first climbing into the cockpit six years ago.
She traveled to her native country in November to accept an award for her historic accomplishment, bestowed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, to which she belongs, and Changan Ford Mazda, her sponsor.
“I knew I could do it,” she says. “It’s hard to know your own potential unless you challenge yourself. I was OK to take the challenge and see how far I could go.”
In 2010, the former global-advertising executive whose career included accounts with LG, Mengniu Dairy and Tsingtao Beer switched gears to pursue a childhood dream. She grew up in Harbin, a city in northeastern China, and as a youth remembers reading The Little Prince, a book about a pilot stranded in the desert who meets a wayward boy. She also read Wind, Sand and Stars, a critically acclaimed tale about the dangers—and delights—of flying. Her parents were aerospace engineers.
“Aviation has a halo,” she says. “A lot of people have a dream to fly.”
Wang studied at Xiamen University’s School of Journalism and Communication and spent 17 years as an adman, moving to South Florida in 2010 with the goal of exploring the wild blue yonder.
“Before I left China, I already made the decision I wanted to be a pilot,” says the married mother of one. “After I became a pilot, my personality changed a bit.”
She replaced her hectic, high-profile life with a quieter, more isolated one—one in which she discovered her aptitude for aviation and awe of nature from high above the earth.
“I really appreciate flight now,” she says. “Sunsets, moonrises, even the Everglades—they’re all beautiful.”