Editor's note: This story was updated Aug. 3, 2023, to reflect that the 48N48 team is officially the Guiness World Record holder for the fastest journey by plane through all 48 contiguous US states.
Imagine you’re flying a plane, the tires chirping as they touch the pavement at your hometown airport. You’re greeted by the arc of a water cannon salute and the cheers of more than 200 people echoing over the pistons. You’ve just flown through 48 states in under 48 hours—which, once verified, should set a Guinness World Record.
This is exactly what Delta A350 Capt. Barry Behnfeldt did, an idea that was just over seven months in the making and sparked by another Delta pilot’s attempt at the record back in 2021.
The premise was this: Barry needed to fly through all 48 contiguous states, landing at a public airport in each one to officially document having been there. Timing would begin when the plane left the ground in the first state and ended when the final flight landed. Most importantly, Barry needed a co-pilot. This is where Delta A321 Capt. Aaron Wilson came in.
Both alumni of the Bowling Green State University School of Aviation, the two Delta pilots met for coffee, where Barry pitched his idea to Aaron.
“Aaron is a wonderful man and great pilot with a great attitude, so when I needed the second pilot, I thought of him right away,” Barry said.
Aaron, who has been with Delta for nearly 10 years, also had experience flying a similar plane to the one Barry would use for the mission – a six-seat 1980 PA32R Piper Saratoga.
“He gave me his presentation, and it took me a second to realize he was asking me to go with him,” Aaron said. “But I was super excited about it. The mission was right up my alley, so I said yes right away.”
To round out their squad, Barry reached out to Thomas Twiddy, who owns a certified FAA 145 repair station and was in the Navy with Barry, and asked if he would be their in-flight technician. His answer was also a resounding yes.
PREPPING FOR THE MISSION
To begin his mission, the first step for Barry was planning his route – in his case, finding the quickest way to get from Michigan to Maine with 47 stops at each contiguous state in between.
Barry also needed to ensure each airport they landed at would have a witness present to sign documents, which occasionally proved to be a challenge for middle-of-the-night stops.
Fortunately, people were eager to support Barry’s three pillars for his mission: to promote general aviation, inspire the next generation of pilots and give to the Veterans Airlift Command, an organization that provides free, private air transportation to our nation's combat injured veterans for medical or other compassionate purposes.
“What started as a fun project to race around the country had morphed into something with much more meaning in just a seven-month period,” Barry said.
JUNE 4, 22:29
START OF MISSION
Barry, Aaron and Thomas prepared to board their plane and fly to their starting destination in Berrien Springs, Michigan, but not before receiving a proper send-off from friends, family and local fans.
“The outpouring of people from our local community was incredible and so humbling,” Barry said. “I couldn’t believe the number of people who came out. I hadn’t seen that many people at the Henry County Airport in a long time.”
As the crew anxiously awaited their take-off time, they went over the “battle rhythm” Barry had prepared: you land the plane, you get the signatures, you hop back on the plane and you go.
After taking off into the sunset with a fly-by formation featuring a T34, the crew was officially ready to begin their mission.
JUNE 5, 18:53
20 HOURS INTO THE MISSION
The mission began without a hitch, thanks in part to Barry’s precise planning and his crew of pilots manning the coordination center back at Henry County Airport, where they spent all day and night feverously checking the weather and making sure each destination airport would be properly staffed.
Around 2 a.m., the crew got their first surprise. An illuminated number 48 on the side of the hangar greeted them as they flew into Wayne Municipal Airport in Nevada.
“It was so cool to see,” Barry said. “Those kinds of things happened all along the route, and it added to the motivation and kept the mission exciting.”
After a clear night of flying with a full moon as their backdrop, they began to see pockets of light around Sheridan, Wyoming, providing a breathtaking view of the Rocky Mountains.
“One of my favorite moments was that first morning as the sun was coming up when we were flying into Montana,” Aaron said. “It was such a surreal experience. I usually fly too high to be able to see that, so being close enough to the ground to see those views was incredible.”
JUNE 6, 4:50
30 HOURS INTO THE MISSION
Another goal of Barry’s (aside from the Guinness World Record) was to inspire the next generation of pilots. As serendipity would have it, the crew was given the chance to accomplish this when they touched down in Coffeyville, Kansas. The coordination center gave Barry a heads up that there was a group waiting for them there, despite it being around 11:30 pm.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking maybe five to 10 people,” Barry said. “When we pulled in, there were close to 50 people, including several kids. I told Aaron and Thomas, ‘We have to shut down here.’ We decided to make it a fuel stop and spend time with everyone.”
Barry grew up with a passion for aviation, citing his father as the person who initially ignited that love in him. He started working at Henry County Airport at 17, and, after putting in 2,000 hours of flying there, he moved on to the Navy for 30 years, flying F-18s for 17 of those years. He’s now been at Delta for 24 years.
“I want to lighten the spark in someone who’s not a pilot yet the same way my dad did for me,” Barry said. “To look in the eyes of the little kids in Coffeyville and see that there’s potential for a future pilot was such a cool thing.”
Barry brought 48N48 t-shirts to hand out to people along the way. When he saw the excitement that the people in Coffeyville shared with the crew, he handed out every last one of those shirts.
JUNE 6, 18:42
44 HOURS INTO MISSION
As the team closed in on their goal, they soared along the east coast to a destination many Delta people are familiar with: Atlanta. Waiting for them at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport under an A321 wing was Delta Chief of Operations John Laughter along with other Delta people eager to welcome the crew and send them well wishes.
“Some people asked me why I would fly into one of the busiest airports when setting a Guinness World Record,” Barry said. “Yes, it took extra time, but to be in Atlanta with the Delta family under an A321 wing was well worth it.”
Shortly after departing Atlanta, Barry received a text from Walt Fricke, founder and president of the Veterans Airlift Command. Adam Kisielewski, a combat-wounded veteran and member of the VAC advisory board, wanted to meet the crew in Maryland and bring them lunch. With sub sandwiches in tow, Adam was there to greet the crew and spend some time with them.
“I was blown away by Adam’s generosity and kindness,” Barry said. “He’s a young man who lost his left arm and leg in combat while serving our country, and we were honored to be there with him.”
As of June 24, the 48N48 nonprofit has raised nearly $35,000 for the VAC.
With 10 stops left, Barry, Aaron and Thomas were in the homestretch.
“Getting to that point…I felt both relief and excitement,” Aaron said. “Relief that everything went according to Barry’s plan and excited we were going to complete the mission in time. Also, relief that I was going to get to sleep in a hotel room at the end of the flight after sleeping in a six-seater plane.”
The coordination team back at Henry County Airport eagerly watched on as Barry, Aaron and Thomas touched down at Portland International Jetport – their final stop.
TOTAL TIME: 44:07
The crew returned to Henry County Airport with great fanfare from local supporters. They also had a little fun with their trip back home, spelling 48N48 in the sky with the plane.
As of Aug. 2, 2023, the team can officially call themselves Guiness World Record holders for the fastest journey by plane through all 48 contiguous US states.
“At the end of the day, what matters most is that we knocked our goals of promoting aviation, inspiring future pilots and supporting the VAC out of the park. The record may have started the mission, but it ended up taking a back seat to everything else that happened.”
For more information about the mission and to donate, visit the 48N48 website.