Veteran newsman Hal Fishman will be aboard next week's planned flight of Friendship One--an attempt to break the air speed record for an around the world flight--and will broadcast live audio updates from the cockpit to his home base of KTLA and Tribune-owned news outlets around the country.
The uplink with Fishman, an avid flier, will continue for the estimated 40 hours it is expected to take for the 23,000-mile journey set to begin and end in Seattle.
Plans to send live video pictures during the flight were scrapped due to lack of time to test equipment installation feasibility and safety.
KTLA will cover the flight, sponsored by the Seattle-based Friendship Foundation, with evening updates on its newscasts and is considering more extensive coverage with reports throughout the day.
Fishman also will link up with Chicago Tribune Co. stations in Chicago, Denver, New York, Atlanta and New Orleans. Independent Network News, another a Tribune holding, will offer reports and CNN may also take a feed.
Clay Lacy, known in Hollywood for aerial assistance on several films including "Top Gun," will pilot a donated United Airlines 747 SP jet for the flight. The plane's large tank requires only two refueling stops for the trip, a key to breaking the 3-year-old record of 45 hours, 25 minutes. Sponsors of the attempt are hoping to shave about five hours off that mark.
A volunteer crew and about 100 passengers, who each have donated at least $5,000 to be given to national and international children's charities, will take off from Seattle at 5 p.m. Thursday and hope to land at the same airport 40 hours later. Astronaut Neil Armstrong is expected to be among the passengers.
Fishman, who has set several Lear jet speed records with longtime friend Lacy, was invited on the flight and convinced KTLA to give the live remotes a try.
His reports will be delivered in a manner similar to air-to-ground helicopter coverage of breaking news events, the primarily difference being the signals will be bounced off a satellite rather than directly to a ground transmitter. The Air Force is cooperating with KTLA in that effort.
"They put a dish on top of the airplane--that's been done before so it doesn't require wind tests," explained KTLA news director Jeff Wald. "We had hoped to do live video out of it and we think it could work, but we would have to put a dish on the bottom of the plane and there's not enough time to test it. It would be taking a safety chance and we don't want to do that."
Footage shot while the jet moves from its San Francisco base to Seattle will be used as a visual "cover" for Fishman's reports and two-way conversations with newsrooms.
It still might be possible to provide live video reports during the flight's two refueling stops, but most likely no one will be allowed to deplane due to time and logistic considerations.
"I'll be reporting live for our program here," Fishman said, "and I'll be live to the other (Tribune) stations too with separate reports for each. I'm also hoping they'll have updates through the day."
The veteran newsman fends off criticism of what could be perceived as overkill of a media event.
"It is a major breaking story happening live. This is not a matter of a record like the Guinness Book of World Records," he insisted. "We are circling the planet earth and going to break the absolute speed record--it is a major news event.
Guidelines for setting such a record, as set down by international organizations that monitor such things, require the flight travel at least 23,000 miles--the circumference of the earth at the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Friendship One will leave Seattle, fly over northern Florida, to Spain and Italy, over the Middle East, across India and Southeast Asia and the Far East.
"If there are refueling problems or mechanical problems, forget it. Weather is also a factor, and we're hoping for tail winds. If head winds come up, it's no good."
So what if the winds aren't with them, something breaks down or the fueling station is out of gas (the flight will take 150,000 gallons)?
Mugs Fishman: "We'll return to Portland in the dead of night."