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Ross Perot Jr. was just 23 when he set out on a bold venture: to circumnavigate the world in a helicopter. He had only a year of flying under his belt at the time. Fortunately for him, his father, the well-known Texas business magnate and sometime presidential candidate, was willing to buy into his dream.

Ross Sr. asked Jay Coburn, who had played a central role in Perot’s rescue of two Electronic Data Systems employees from Iran in 1979, to join his son in the cockpit of a brightly painted Bell 206L LongRanger II, equipped with special communications, safety and navigation equipment. They lifted off from Love Field in the chopper, fittingly dubbed Spirit of Texas, on September 1, 1982, trailed by a Lockheed C-130 Hercules carrying supplies and fuel.

While they had no major mechanical problems, they found plenty of adventure during one stormy leg of the journey. Low on fuel over the North Pacific, they fought hard to set the chopper down on a 40-foot square platform atop a container ship tossed by typhoon-force winds. Twenty-nine days after leaving Texas, having flown over 26 countries, they returned home, mission accomplished. In all, they had refueled a total of 56 times. Today Spirit of Texas is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Two weeks after returning home, Ross Jr. joined the U.S. Air Force. This time his goal was to fly fighters—and again he succeeded. He piloted McDonnell F-4 Phan – toms for the next eight years, first on active duty and then as a reservist. But even after reentering civilian life (he’s chairman of the board of Perot Systems and a real estate developer), Ross Jr. remained committed to the Air Force. As chairman of the Air Force Memorial Association, he was instrumental in efforts to construct a monument to the USAF in the nation’s capital, which was dedicated in 2006.


Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here