URBANA, Ill. - University of Illinois alumnus Dr. Bo Zhang flew into Willard Airport on August 17, on his way to making aviation history. Zhang is performing China’s first flight around the world in a propeller-driven aircraft. Although this trip has been made in similar aircraft more than 350 times, Zhang is China’s first aviator to attempt the feat.
Zhang departed Beijing on August 7, and he will fly approximately 25,000 miles by way of 11 countries, making more than 30 stops along the way. Zhang’s route includes the first-ever flight along the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes. Zhang said, “When I made my plan, I was aware of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative and its influence on the world’s economy. In my plan I will retrace the ancient Silk Road, to fly over the five central Asian countries. In that way I can both experience the shock from the ancient civilization and witness the development and the changes along the new Silk Road.”
Zhang was met at Willard Airport by scores of students, faculty, and alumni, as well as various Chinese and UI dignitaries, including President Timothy Killeen, President Emeritus Robert Easter, and Robert Hauser, Dean of the College of ACES. He will resume his flight on Thursday, and some of the next stops include welcoming activities in both Washington, D.C., and London. Zhang said he is approximately one-third of the way through his trip, which is expected to take two months.
Zhang received both his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural engineering from Illinois, and he is a former board member of the University of Illinois Alumni Association. In 2014, he became the first student to earn a private pilot certificate from Parkland College in Champaign; he completed the program in 58 days, a record for the University of Illinois Aviation Institute.