Almost five months ago, Class of 2000 graduate Dan Dominguez and his friend Chris Wall stepped into a small aircraft to begin living their dream of flying around the world.

On Dec. 15, Dominguez and Wall, a 2000 graduate of Rice University, arrived back in Rochester to greet friends, an army of press and a throng of adoring schoolchildren.

Their project, World Flight 2000, made them the youngest pilots to fly around the world ? reaching out and educating children along the way.

Learning online

The pilots stayed connected to the Internet by satellite throughout their journey, providing news updates, photos, journal entries and educational activities. More than 23 million students worldwide have followed the project, which was backed by sponsors including UR and America Online.

The flight?s course included stops in Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Oman, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and other countries.

?We saw stuff that isn?t even published in calendars, it?s so pretty,? Dominguez said. ?You?re flying over lush green jungles with waterfalls. There?s open blue water and white beach. You can see the fish from the airplane. You can see the sand dunes in the Sahara. Then it?s just stars turning into skylight.?

Wall, too, extolled the physical beauty of the trip.

?My fondest memory was watching the sun set over the Caribbean,? he said.

But the entire flight wasn?t a cakewalk.

Dominguez and Wall experienced engine trouble over the Red Sea, heavy red tape in a Calcutta airport, abrupt weather changes, giant insects in the rain forest and a difficult ascent to the altitude levels required for flying over Saudi Arabia.

?It?s a scary feeling when the only way to get to safe land is to stay in the air for 36 hours,? Wall said.

Along with combating adversity, the two also learned about people of other cultures.

?You go around the world and you see that there are so many different ways to do the same thing,? Wall said. ?Everyone?s different but everyone?s still a human being.?

?The world?s a lot smaller now that we flew it around,? Dominguez said. ?In 36 hours you can be anywhere in the world.?

The beginning

The seeds of World Flight 2000 sprouted in 1996, when then-high school students Dominguez and Wall decided they wanted to fly to Alaska. So they flew from El Paso, Texas to Ketchikan, Alaska to promote environmental conservation to high school students in six states. The five-week flight made more than 30 stops.

After that, the two started the Global Advancement Foundation, a student-run nonprofit organization which gives kids the ability to fund their dreams through sponsorship. From there, World Flight 2000 began.

?When I first saw this ugly-looking airplane appear in the airport, I could not believe that anyone would like to fly it,? Professor of Physics Frank Wolfs, a former teacher of Dominguez, said in the months before the flight.

But Dream Catcher, the twin-engine AreoCommander 560E, took off on Sept. 1 and made it through 10-to-11-hour flights every four or five days.

?I look at it and I say, ?This plane was in Africa.? It?s kind of mesmerizing,? Dominguez said.

Future plans

Now the plane and its crew will be visiting schools around the nation and travelling to airshows. The two took more than 3,000 digital photographs and plan to release a book. The World Flight crew includes senior and school coordinator Beth Begy and two recent UR graduates ? photographer Jesse Weisz and international director Jenni Powers.

Inspiration

Students, it appears, have taken the pilots? message to heart.

Danny Brown, a sixth-grader at Apollo Middle School, followed the flight?s course every Friday in class.

?They?ve really inspired me,? he said. ?I?d given up on my dream to be a baseball player. They kept my dream going.?

And these feelings are exactly what Dominguez and Wall wanted to perpetuate.

?What kind of world do you want to live in?? Dominguez asked the schoolchildren assembled at his Rochester homecoming. ?We were just two crazy kids with a dream. You can accomplish anything you want.?

Visit the World Flight 2000 Web site at www.worldflight2000.org.



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