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Feature Story

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"It was like no other flight"

It's a page in aviation history only 35 people experienced first hand.

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Geoff Thomas

Capt. Suzanna Darcy-Henneman (right) in the flight deck during the 777-200LR's record-setting flight from Hong Kong to London. She and a team of pilots took turns flying the airplane.

They were the pilots and passengers onboard Boeing's 777-200LR Worldliner when it broke the non-stop distance record for commercial airplanes. The flight from Hong Kong to London crossed two vast oceans and a continent as it spanned 11,664 nautical miles.

"You can go your whole career as a pilot and never have something like that happen," said Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, the project pilot for the 777-200LR.

On the fifth anniversary of that record-breaking flight, Darcy-Henneman and a few of the lucky passengers reminisced about the nearly 23-hour journey.

"It was like no other flight any of us had ever been a part of," said James Wallace, one of the journalists who chronicled the flight.

"Every one there knew it was going to be a special event," said Randy Tinseth, Boeing vice president of Marketing.

While the 777-200LR was designed to fly farther than any other commercial airplane, the path to the world record was not easy and the team needed a few factors to work in their favor.

"For everyone, it was something that wasn't going to come around in their career again." Suzanna Darcy Henneman, 777-200LR Project Pilot

"If the winds went away, we might not make the record. If the airplane had a mechanical in flight, we wouldn't be able to make the record," said Darcy-Henneman. "So we spent months of planning, everybody working probably 16-plus hours a day because for a record flight, the devil's really in the details."

One of the major details was weight. Only 35 people were allowed on the flight so the plane could carry enough fuel to make it to London.

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Geoff Thomas

To pass the time and stay loose, the passengers took part in stretching exercises in the cabin.

Everyone there had a strong tie to aviation. The excitement was just you could feel it, you could touch it," said Tinseth, who quipped, "I'll tell you I wish to date that I had frequent flier miles for that trip."

After taking off from Hong Kong, Capt. Darcy-Henneman commanded the 777-200LR out over the Pacific Ocean. For the next 23 hours, she and the team of pilots took turns flying.

"We had a whole schedule of when you flew, when the meals were, when your sleep period was," she recalled.

In the cabin, the passengers ate, played games and watched movies. Some even took part in stretching exercises to stay loose and to pass the time.

Everyone there had a strong tie to aviation. The excitement was just you could feel it, you could touch it," said Tinseth, who quipped, "I'll tell you I wish to date that I had frequent flier miles for that trip."

After taking off from Hong Kong, Capt. Darcy-Henneman commanded the 777-200LR out over the Pacific Ocean. For the next 23 hours, she and the team of pilots took turns flying.

"No one had time to sleep. You were afraid you were going to miss something." James Wallace, journalist covering the flight

"We had a whole schedule of when you flew, when the meals were, when your sleep period was," she recalled.

In the cabin, the passengers ate, played games and watched movies. Some even took part in stretching exercises to stay loose and to pass the time.

"No one had time to sleep," said Wallace. "[And] you didn't want to because you were being part of history and you were afraid you were going to miss something."

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The Boeing 777-200LR arrives in London Heathrow Airport to a water cannon salute after its nearly 23-hour journey from Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the miles and hours passed by as the 777-200LR settled into the winds and just kept flying.

"The airplane was perfect. She was perfect," said Darcy-Henneman. "The airplane had been a little persnickety upon occasion during flight testing, but it was like she knew what she was supposed to do."

Night turned to day and then night and day again.

"One of the great things was we did have two sunrises," said Darcy-Henneman. "Most of us got into the flight deck to try to see the sunrise at some point during the flight. They were both gorgeous."

After 22 hours and 40 minutes, the airplane arrived at London Heathrow Airport with fuel to spare.

"I think this flight showed the world how capable the 777-200LR was," Tinseth said.

"There's always the possibility somebody will break the record and good for them," said Darcy-Henneman. "The previous record stood for 16 years and if our record stands another 16 years, we'll be really proud of that."