116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Peter Teahen of Robins and John Ockenfels of rural Shueyville, members of the International Fellowship of Flying Rotarians, are again ready to soar around the world to raise money and awareness for polio eradication.
In December 2019, the piloting pair, related by marriage, announced plans to fly east from Cedar Rapids in the spring of 2020 to raise $1 million for Rotary International’s polio vaccination and education program.
The monetary goal was awarded a 2-for-1 dollar match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
After a local fundraising pancake breakfast at The Eastern Iowa Airport on March 7, 2020, the 20,000-mile, 51-day flight was put on hold three days later as COVID-19 began spreading around the world. The two had hoped to be able to leave the following July, but that plan, too, was put on hold in the wake of the pandemic.
In June 2020, Teahen told The Gazette he and Ockenfels were aiming to take off in April 2021. Those plans also fell through, as the pandemic continued.
What’s happened since
After three frustrating delays, pilot Teahen, 69, said he and co-pilot Ockenfels, 70, are now planning their around-the-world flight for late May or early June in 2023.
While COVID remains a concern, the bigger obstacle right now is access to airspace, especially over Russia, where they have planned three stops en route back from Japan. After invading Ukraine, Russia shut down airspace to NATO countries, including the United States.
“When we started planning this thing, we thought the Middle East was unsettled, especially with Afghanistan,” Teahen said. “That whole area we thought would explode, so we had secured permission to go through Russia, and we couldn't go through the Middle East.
“So we could come into St. Petersburg, and to Moscow, going across all the way, avoiding any troubled areas to the south, never thinking that Russia would shut down. We just can’t make that loop around to get back into the U.S.”
What: Around the World: Flight to End Polio, in partnership with Rotary International
Participants: Pilot Peter Teahen of Robins and co-pilot John Ockenfels of rural Shueyville
Projected flight date: Late May or early June 2023
Donations: 100 percent of funds raised will go to Rotary’s vaccination efforts and to raise awareness of polio prevention; flighttoendpolio.com/home
Project updates, details: flighttoendpolio.com/
They’re banking on the encouraging words they’ve been hearing.
“Everybody we talked to believes by (next spring) things will open back up,” Teahen said. “ … So we’re ready to go.”
The initial plan was to travel in Teahen’s six-cylinder, 300-horsepower single-engine airplane.
As reported earlier, the cruising speed of the six-passenger Piper Lance II will be 150 knots, or 171 mph. The plane will burn 16 1/2 gallons of fuel each hour. Besides 94 gallons held in the wings, the seats behind the front row will be removed to make way for a 165-gallon reserve tank, as well as luggage and supplies.
The pilots still plan to pay their own way, initially estimated between $60,000 to $70,000, offset by some grants and high-tech equipment donations. Three years later, with prices rising across the board, especially for fuel, the pilots realize their personal out-of-pocket costs will rise as well.
However, they remain committed to channeling all funds raised to Rotary International’s polio eradication efforts.
“Our fuel is the most expensive item for this for this flight,” Teahen said. “ … I think the cheapest gas over the last three years we found was $6 a gallon, and the most expensive we found was $21 a gallon. … It gets expensive.”
Insurance for the plane was quoted at $12,000 when Teahen started planning the trip. A year later, when he went to buy the insurance, that figure rose to $25,000, where it remains as of now.
The aviators also were nervous that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2-for-1 support might be shaky following the couple’s divorce, but the foundation recently recommitted to giving $2 for every $1 raised, Teahen noted.
Since the Rotary program can vaccinate children for polio and other childhood illnesses for $3 per person, “a $5,000 donation will vaccinate 5,000 children from the ugliness of polio,” he said.
“It’s just a powerful statement with the Gates Foundation being able to match the generous gifts of people,” he added, noting that they expect to reach the $1 million fundraising goal shortly.
And with renewed interest and energy generated by their speeches at recent Rotary International gatherings in Houston and Oshkosh, Wis., Teahen expects to top that initial fundraising goal.
While Rotary.org/en/our-causes/ending-polio lists just two countries where polio remains endemic — Afghanistan and Pakistan — the need for vaccinations remains paramount “to keep other countries polio-free.”
Teahen pointed out that after 20 years, the United States has recently reported its first case of polio, striking an adult male in Rockland County, north of New York City. London also recently documented its first case of polio in 40 years.
“Our concern is polio could flare up really big time if vaccinations haven’t occurred, and cleaning up water supplies and all those things that are important to this polio-plus program (that) has been possibly put on the back shelf for the last three (to) four years,” he said. “ … That’s why this program remains important.”
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