Following the 1987 Paris Air show, Joe Clark and Clay Lacy visited Bruce McCaw at his Bellevue home, and over a bottle of scotch the three began plans to break the around-the-world flight speed record of 45 hours, 32 minutes, and 53 seconds that had just been set by aviator Brooke Knappe (b. 1940) in a Gulfstream III. They mapped out a possible route, using a small globe and a length of string. The route would change somewhat as plans developed, but the decision was made that day to approach United Airlines' president and chief executive officer Eddie Carlson (1911-1990) for support. Aviation publicist and charity-auction fundraiser Dick Friel (1933-2010) got involved in the project at an early stage, and the group decided to make the flight a fundraiser for children's charities.
McCaw spoke with Carlson, who initially rejected the idea. But Clay Lacy, who was at the time a commercial pilot for United Airlines, put together a formal presentation that persuaded Carlson, who particularly liked the charity connection. Carlson agreed to lend the men a United 747-SP, a plane used for commercial flights, for a weekend.
Lacy, Clark, and McCaw formed the Friendship Foundation and named the plane "Friendship One." They offered seats aboard the historic flight to the first 100 passengers who donated $5,000 each, with the money raised to be given to children's charitable organizations around the world. Donors also became automatic members of the Friendship Foundation. The 100 donors were easily found, with a waiting list of at least 35 more. But turning the plan into reality was difficult, since it involved obtaining FAA approval, working things out with the unions, dealing with security risks, and, of course, financing the cost of the flight itself.
A crew was chosen: Clay Lacy as captain, with Verne Jobst as co-captain, Gary Meermans as pilot, and Bob Jones as relief pilot. Many of the paying passengers were connected with aviation and had flying experience, so it was joked that Lacy had the largest backup crew in the history of flight.
Four companies sponsored the trip: the Boeing Company, Pratt and Whitney, United Airlines, and Volkswagen U.S. In addition to financial support, Volkswagen donated a Jetta automobile, which was carried in the belly of the plane during the flight. The plan was to display the Jetta at car shows around the country and sell raffle tickets for "the fastest car in the world," but various state gaming regulations made this impossible. Instead, the car was given to the Friendship Foundation after the flight, which passed it on to the Seattle Boys and Girls Club to be auctioned off.
Friendship One left Boeing Field at 7:14 p.m. on January 28, 1988, carrying the philanthropists, several celebrities, a crew of 18 volunteers, half a dozen journalists, a two-day supply of food and beverages, two exercise bicycles, 37 foam mattresses, the Jetta, and a replica of the airplane. Celebrities aboard included former astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930-2012); Aerospace Medical Association member Dr. Alan Rapp (1929-2010), of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lt. General Laurence "Bill" Craigie (1902-1994), pilot of America's first jet aircraft, the Bell XP-59; Moya Lear (1915-2001), widow of aviation pioneer Bill Lear (1902-1978); stunt flyer Bob Hoover (b. 1922); and Eddie Carlson.
Friendship One headed east, with plans to refuel first in Athens, Greece, and then in Taipei, Taiwan, before starting the home stretch. The expected arrival time in Seattle was Saturday morning, January 30th.
During the flight, middle-school students staffed a Mission Control exhibit in the Great Hall area of the Boeing Museum of Flight to inform visitors about the plane, its passengers and crew, the planned trip route, and the expected stops. Aided by retired Boeing test pilot Lew Wallick (d. 2009) and personnel from McChord Air Force Base, the student volunteers answered media questions and updated visitors on Friendship One's progress.
One Long Party
Making passengers comfortable and happy on what would be a very long flight was the job of Cabin Services Coordinator Lois Lacy and flight attendants Kay Crab, Kathy Flanagan, Fran McNally, Roy Rabanal, Ingrid Vincent, and May Weiss. The mood was festive and the trip became an extended party, with movies, board games, exercise bikes, cocktails -- which ran out too soon -- and a continuous feast. Those who wished to sleep were offered a foam mattress, but few slept the first night. As Dick Friel later told the press, "it was kind of like flying around in your living room, with a lot of nice people" ("Mere Scheme?").
For most of the trip, passengers saw only clouds and darkness below them, but approaching the first refueling stop the Greek islands came into view. On schedule, Friendship One landed in Athens at 7:55 a.m. Seattle time on January 29, but lost precious minutes during refueling. For security reasons, passengers were told to remain on board. One crew member left a check for $10,000 for a Greek charitable organization. The plane's second stop, in Taipei, went more smoothly, but runway changes caused a slight delay.
As Friendship One approached Boeing Field, passengers were told they had broken the speed record. They erupted into cheers and began toasting the event as the plane circled the field in a victory lap. It landed at 8:45 a.m. on January 30, 1988, after circling the world in 36 hours, 54 minutes, and 15 seconds, a new record. They had flown 22,997 miles at an average speed of 623.59 miles per hour. After landing, passengers and crew assembled for photos in front of the plane.
The record was officially sanctioned by the National Aeronautic Association the following month. Not only did Friendship One break the around-the-world, average-speed record by more than 100 m.p.h., it also set 11 records for the fastest flights between various cities. But the victory was short-lived -- less than a month later, it was bested by Al Paulson, flying a Gulfstream IV, and in 1992 a new record was set by an Air France Concorde SST.
All for a Good Cause
The one record that remained unbroken for Friendship One was the raising of $500,000 for children's charities. The foundation chose half of the recipients, and the other half were chosen by the passengers. Among the beneficiaries were UNICEF, Seattle Children's Hospital and Medical Center, Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children, educational programs at the Boeing Museum of Flight, Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, and the City of Hope, a cancer treatment center in Duarte, California.
Columnist Emmett Watson of The Seattle Times had this to say:
"Friendship One. A promotion scheme? A gimmick? A two-day wonder? Fastest time around the world? Who cares? Yet a lot of people cared, as it turned out … maybe [it was] a hype on a small scale, but it made you feel good all the same … and the spinoffs to this much-publicized charity event have only begun" ("Mere Scheme?").
Watson was right. The $500,000 was invested and soon grew to $700,000. After distributions, a small remaining amount was used to create an ongoing Friendship Foundation fund within the Seattle Foundation. As of 2013 it still existed, dedicated to the benefit of children.
Remembering the Event
A 10th Anniversary celebration held at the Boeing Museum of Flight in 1998 brought back many of the Friendship Foundation's planners, passengers, and crew. A similar event was held for the 25th Anniversary in 2013, but by this time the group had lost 38 of its original travelers, including astronaut Neil Armstrong, National Aviation Hall of Famer Bill Craigie, and publicist Dick Friel.
But Bruce McCaw, Joe Clark, and Clay Lacy were there to reminisce. Lacy gave a fitting tribute to the plane that made the flight:
"Interestingly, the 747-SP was probably the best plane to do this in, to this day. No newer airplanes go any faster. Some of the newer planes go a little bit further, like the Boeing 787 could make it in one stop, but it isn't as fast. The 747 was, in my opinion, the best, most outstanding airplane ever built … I loved to fly it. It was like the Rock of Gibraltar and I loved to ride in it better than any airplane flying" (Flight of Friendship One DVD).