Sara Butler | Contributing Editor
Bankers Hill pilot sets off on world peace mission
January 2019 will mark the beginning of a global adventure for Robert DeLaurentis.
DeLaurentis, a Bankers Hill resident, has an extensive aviation resume under his seatbelt. Since receiving his pilot’s license seven years ago, he has completed 1,100 flight hours and visited more than 53 countries. One of his most notable trips was “Spirit of San Diego,” a 27 stop and 27,000 nautical mile flight around the world from May to August 2015.
Now he will embark on his biggest expedition yet — traveling to the ends of the earth, from the South Pole to the North Pole. After his initial departure from San Diego, he will fly southeast through Texas, Central and South America to the South Pole, then up through Africa and Europe to the North Pole before turning back home.
“It just seemed like the natural thing to do next,” DeLaurentis said, referring to his upcoming adventure.
DeLaurentis named his expedition “Citizen of the World” after the Gulfstream Turbine Commander 900 plane he will pilot on the mission. It is a 90-day journey, with a mission of connecting humanity from all over the globe.
“The South Pole and the North Pole are the two places on the planet where peace exists, and the flight will connect the two — I like to say, ‘on a mission of global peace,’” he said, adding that the plane is “a global billboard for the causes we’re trying to promote.”
For this trip, DeLaurentis has partnered with United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), a nonprofit affiliated with the United Nations (UN). After meeting Joan Augsburger, the manager of the UN Building International Gift Shop in BalboaPark, DeLaurentis was connected to the executive director of UNA-USA’s SanDiego chapter, Bettina Hausmann.
DeLaurentis will make various stops to meet with people at UNA regional offices around the world, coordinated by Hausmann. He plans to conduct interviews with these individuals about what it means to them to be a “Citizen of the World.”
“One people. One planet. One plane,” is the overarching concept driving the trip. DeLaurentis noted that he first encountered the philosophy of “oneness” when completing his graduate studies inSpiritual Psychology, a three-year study from University of Santa Monica.
Once he became a pilot and began his global travels, he encountered many diverse individuals and the concept of “oneness”stuck with him.
“In this world in this day in age, the world is divided. Mostly with politics, it seems, but there’s color of people, their race, their socioeconomic class,” he said.“But what I found on my first trip is that there are more similarities than differences amongst people. Everybody basically wanted peace, safety, health for their family, financial security, and the pursuit of joy and happiness.”
In addition to his work with UNA, he is also supporting efforts of UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) and National Aeronautics andSpace Administration (NASA). DeLaurentis will have the Wafer Scale space craft experiment onboard, designed by scientists at UCSB and funded by NASA, which isa small circuit board approximately the size of a hand.
It consists of several small “spacecraft”that are prototypes for the NASA Starlight program. Fitted with sensors, they automatically record data, take pictures and measure elements such as altitude and speed.
“Each spacecraft will have a GPS, optical communications devices to interact with each other, ultra-low power radio(optional), inertial navigation, temperature and optical imaging sensors,”according to a statement from UCSB scientists, which can be found on DeLaurentis’ website.
The ambitious journey has a high price tag of approximately 600,000 to $1 million — funded with the help more than 70sponsors — due to the extensive airplane modifications that he and his team have had to make in order to ensure the plane can travel the distance.
“Taking a plane to its absolute limits — and yourself — and going after some records is fun,” DeLaurentis said.
Lack of navigation information, the threat of single pilot fatigue, and flying in some of the worst weather in the world are also difficulties DeLaurentis has had to prepare for. Most recently, he visited Connecticut to complete an open ocean survival training in case of a water crash.
Despite his preparation and faith, DeLaurentis is not facing this journey without nerves or anxieties. But rather than run from the fear, he chooses to “lean into it.”
In fact, one of the defining moments of his aviation career so far was rooted in fear — his brush with death due to an engine failure in a single-engine plane over the Strait of Malacca, which occurred during his “Spirit of San Diego” trip around the globe back in 2015.To survive the incident, he had to fly with a broken engine and complete an emergency landing.
“At first it was tragic and scary and kind of primal, but it really changed my life,” DeLaurentis said. “Now [with] that experience I learned so much. At first, I thought ‘Hey, this plane is about to take my life,’ but then I came to realize the plane saved my life.
“Even though that on the surface it would appear to be a tragic moment, it really set my life in motion in a lot of ways — about giving back, trying to improve the safety and technology of flying, sharing the passion and inspiring people to go after the things that may have thought were impossible,” he continued.
This persistence to fly is what keeps him propelling forward — even in the wake of numerous threats and obstacles.
Though the “Citizen of the World” is a solo trip, DeLaurentis has a nine-person team helping him with preparations, and a few co-pilots who will join him on legs of the trip.
During the year-and-a-half-long preparation process, DeLaurentis encountered many individuals who lent a hand, asking little to nothing from him. A fellow pilot gifted him navigation charts for free; many mechanics offered services pro bono; and an artist insisted to illustrate a children’s book named “The Little Plane That Could” without pay, telling DeLaurentis he was “doing this for the world.”
“It’s really remarkable. The funny thing is it’s not really wealthy people [donating], these are just regular people who are giving,” DeLaurentis said.
DeLaurentis hopes that in return, he can help connect humanity around the globe and inspire them to do good — for themselves and for others.
“Pilots and people can be ambassadors to whatever causes they support … I think everybody has an opportunity to do something positive,” he said. “You don’t have to be rich — you can just want todo good and help out in some minor way, but it could be the missing piece that matters.”
In addition to his pilot title, DeLaurentis wears many other hats including speaker, businessman, blogger and author. He has written two books — “Flying through Life” and “Spirit of San Diego” — and hopes to turn this next flying expedition into a third. He may also release a documentary film using footage he will record up in the air and during the U.N.interviews.
Though he is a “Citizen of the World,” DeLaurentis still values his connection to Uptown and his nearly three-decade residency, previously living in Golden Hill and South Park. He noted that his inspiration often sparks from morning walks through Balboa Park.
It’s also no surprise that local aviation icon Charles Lindberg has influenced his path, as DeLaurentis lives in the sameBankers Hill neighborhood and even named his “Spirit of San Diego” plane after Lindberg’s “Spirit of St. Louis.” And if things go according to plan, Lindberg’s great grandson Eric may accompany DeLaurentis on the last leg of the journey home to San Diego.
Through this trip — which has been completed by a very short list of pilots — DeLaurentis hopes he can break records as well as inspire others to follow their dreams.
“I’d like for the people who don’t think they can’t do something to go out and at least try,” he said. “Some of the sponsors said [to me], ‘Well what happens if you crash? Our name is on the side of your plane.’ And my response to that is, ‘Well, at least I tried.’ And that’s better than not doing anything.”
To learn more about DeLaurentis and his mission, visit flyingthrulife.com.