Making Aviation History: Jon Johanson and his RV4

A nurse-midwife from Adelaide is probably not the likely candidt for a world record setting aviator… but when you combine ambition, determination and a dream, anything is possible.

Meet Jon Johanson, who has been named Adventurer of the Year (2004) and awarded an FAI Gold Air Medal.

“Dare to dream, and never give up” Jon Johanson

About Jon Johanson

Jon was pretty bad at school and was considered too ‘thick’ to amount to anything. He went on to become a carpenters apprentice as it was all he was ‘good enough’ for. It was during this time he became interested in flying.

Jon did some carpentry work at the local aero club. Two weeks later he returned for his first flying lesson, costing him $25 per hour. He was making $27 a week which afforded him a lesson every second or third week.

Construction work began drying up and he was finding it difficult to stay employed. He decided to pursue a career in nursing. While working as a nurse, he later continued his flight training, completing his ATPL. This led to a job in a Partenavia, based out of Darwin, flying out of remote strips all over Northern Australia. It was here that he met someone building a Vans RV-4.

He dreamed of having his own plane, neither nursing or flying paid enough for him to afford this dream. Building a plane was the solution! He was impressed by the RV-4 as it was rugged, simple, and fast. Not knowing anything about metal or plane building, he talked himself out of the idea.

With a little encouragement from his new builder friend, and an offer to use his workshop and tools, Jon scrapped together $1000 and ordered the parts to start building his very own Vans RV-4.

Now working an average of 80 hours per week as a midwife and pilot to pay for his new project, Jon spent every remaining minute on his RV-4, completing the project in 2.5 years.

Jon flew it at every chance he got. After flying across Australia, it sparked a question in his mind, “just how far could it go?” If it could take him across the hugeness of the Australian Outback, maybe with a few modifications, he could fly half way around to world to the largest airshow at Oshkosh. If it could take him half way around the world, why couldn’t it take him the full way around?

After much research plans were underway to modify his RV-4 for a trip around the world. This had not been done in this type of aircraft before.

Customising the RV-4

Some of the major modifications made to complete his record breaking trips include:

• Converting the wing tips to fuel tanks
• Header fuel tank added between the instruments and firewall
• Ferry tank installed to the back seat in the cabin.
• Magneto’s replaced with electronic ignition
• Specially designed seat to fit Jon’s body

Specilised equipment was added to the plane and included:

• Sensenich 3 blade metal propella
• VHF radio with a HF set transmitting through a trailing antenna.
• GPS for navigation
• External venturi
• Vortex generators on the wings

With the modifications complete, the plane could stay airborn for more than 18 hours at an economy cruise speed of 140 knots. This was sufficient to make the longest legs with a headwind and still have sufficient fuel reserves.

Jon Johanson’s Major Achievements

Jon’s major achievements included:
1995 Around the world – East
1996 Around the World – West
2004 Flight to the South Pole
Flight to the North Pole

Jon’s plane has been retired to the South Australian Aviation Museum where it is on display for everyone to enjoy

To read more about Jon’s journey check out his book Aiming High: The Little Australian Built to Fly the World


Van Aircraft

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