Club Spotlight: Eximious Flying Club Members Attempt Cross-County Record

Generally, when flying club members talk about going somewhere the conversation centers around breakfast or a $100 hamburger. Kirk Schutter and Kirk McCardell of the Eximious Flying Club had a slightly different idea. Schutter is the club’s Chief Pilot and Safety Officer and McCardell is the Operations Officer. They decided to see if they could fly to all of the lower 48 states in less than 48 hours in the club’s Rockwell Commander 114 to promote General Aviation…and set a Guinness World Record. 

Schutter first had the idea in the 1990s when talking with some fellow CFIs. It was just a theoretical conversation on whether such a trip was even possible. Fast forward 30 years. “The seed reemerged in my consciousness,” Schutter said. “I talked to the other Kirk and said, ‘You know, I’ve always wondered about that.’ He really started fueling the fire and we just started rolling.”

It was early 2021 and Schutter, a captain with Delta, had some extra time on his hands as airline operations were scaled way back because of Covid. The first thing the two Kirks did was some planning to determine if it was even possible to accomplish a flight like this in the Commander.

The Rockwell Commander 114 is a retractable-gear, low-wing aircraft that cruises at about 155 knots (see this month’s Aircraft Spotlight). It’s one of three planes that the Eximious Flying Club (pronounced eg-zim-ee-es and means excellent) has in its fleet. The club has about 50 members and keeps the Commander at Oakland-Troy Airport (KVLL) north of Detroit. The other two aircraft are a Piper Archer II based at Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport (KDET) and a Flight Design CTLS light sport based at Ray Community Airport (57D) in Ray, Michigan about 20 miles north of Detroit.

Determining the shortest route that would take the two Kirks to all 48 states in the least amount of time was just the first challenge to planning the flight. After all, there are more than 5,000 public-use airports in the United States. Kirk Schutter laid out a route and Kirk McCardell reviewed it. He found an airport that was listed as being in Wisconsin on the airport diagram but was actually in Minnesota. So they chose another airport that was clearly in Wisconsin.

Once they had a route planned, they plugged it into ForeFlight to see if it was even possible. The simple answer was yes. But depending on the winds, total flight time without landing could vary by four or five hours. The next step was to figure out how to maximize efficiency and minimize time on the ground. 

During this process they realized they could set a Guinness World Record. They reached out and learned if they wanted to set a record there were several requirements that needed to be met, adding another layer of complexity to the planning.

“The first thing they need is two independent witnesses at the beginning of the endeavor, and they need to be unrelated to us in every way and they have to write a statement saying what they saw,” Kirk Schutter said. “Furthermore, at each stop we have to have a witness with a name, contact information, and signature that we were indeed at each of these airports.”

That meant they had to do a full stop landing. They didn’t need to shut down, as long as they got a signature. Guinness wanted video of every landing, with audio of the pilots saying the airport name, runway number and showing each pilot as another way to verify each stop. Guinness also needed a file to show the aircraft’s flight track across all 48 states, which they were able to provide using ForeFlight.

Besides getting GoPros to film the landings, they needed to identify someone at each airport to serve as the witness to sign that they had landed. “I spent a lot of time calling each and every airport and saying, ‘Hey is there someone there that could come out in the middle of the night a couple months from now within this two or three hour window and just sign our clipboard for us? Here’s what we’re trying to do.’ I found an amazing amount of positive reactions from people,” Kirk Schutter said.

One of the challenges was finding ways to reduce the time on the ground – taxiing in, taxiing out, refueling. If it wasn’t a fuel stop, they would do a “hot signing” where they wouldn’t shut down while they got the signature. 

“We were actually leaning out the door with the engine idling and passing the stuff to sign on the back side of the wing,” Kirk McCardell said. “People would give us a little goody bag or something and we were on our way.”

The shortest stop was two or three minutes. The fuel stops took longer, but by calling ahead they made arrangements so they didn’t have take the time to run a credit card and wait for authorization. Some airports offered to put the pump on manual and charge the pilots later. “Those are the minutes we needed to make this thing work according to my calculations,” Schutter said.

To help coordinate the witnesses, the Kirk’s recruited their fellow club members to serve as “duty pilots.” Their job was to track the flight during a four-hour shift and call the volunteer witnesses to provide an updated ETA on the plane’s arrival to make sure they would be ready to meet the Commander as soon as it touched down.

“If a witness got the day wrong, or maybe the time zone off by an hour, our whole thing would fall apart,” Schutter said. “Hats off to the people in the club back home for handling that.”

About 25 percent to 30 percent of the club participated in some way – whether they served as a duty pilot, posted updates on the Eximious Facebook Page, or helped with the maintenance to get the plane ready for the flight. The Kirks kept in touch with the team by satellite text in the air and cell phones on the ground.

“Club President David Tarrant was influential in garnering major support from the club and getting the team motivated. There was a lot of volunteering of time. It wasn’t insignificant,” McCardell said. “Our A&P IA, Cliff Miller, helped us out quite a bit in preparing the plane.”

One of the things Cliff helped with was removing the rear seat to create a rest area so the pilot not flying could get some sleep. “We installed a piece of plywood and layered it with foam,” McCardell said. “We did a new weight & balance, and the work was done in coordination with the FAA and our A&P IA.”

Both pilots took advantage of the rest area during the flight. They divided up the flying but made sure all takeoffs and landings were done with two pilots for added safety. The only time they switched who was in the left seat was at fuel stops when the engine was shut down.

To minimize time on the ground, they carried snacks that were easy to eat in the plane and easy on the stomach. They relied heavily on power bars and Nature Valley granola bars, as well as water and juice. Several of the witnesses also took it upon themselves to bring goody bags with snacks and drinks.

To make sure they didn’t need to make an unscheduled pit stop, they carried little porto-potties and a “lugaloo” – basically a lid that snaps onto a five-gallon paint can that could serve as a toilet, similar to what ice fisherman use. They didn’t need to use it, but they were prepared. “There’s just no time for running for food or anything else,” Schutter said.

They planned the flight for September because it generally has the best overall weather throughout the country. “Weeks later, I realized that the 9/11 [terrorists] had chosen their date partly for the same reason,” Schutter said. The Kirks chose the date of their record attempt to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the attack “to strike back at them in a small way” and to honor those lost. 

The Kirks began the flight on the East Coast to tackle the high-intensity, short legs at the beginning of the trip when they would be most rested. The starting point was Caledonia Airport (KCDA) in Vermont and the first leg would take them 58 miles to Eastern Slopes Regional Airport (KIZG) in Maine.

“The idea was on the East Coast we would be up and down, VFR, and just knock out the airports,” Schutter said. “The opposite occurred. We almost pulled the plug on it the day before. But we had so many things in place with witnesses, and we also had our club behind us. That’s important.”

The morning of September 9, 2021 came and Mother Nature was not smiling. Conditions were mostly IFR on the East Coast, but fortunately both pilots are IFR-rated and they had filed 48 individual IFR flight plans as a contingency a week before the flight.

“When we launched in the morning, the weather was very low,” McCardell said. “We were falling behind after the first five or six airports on the East Coast around New York, we were in IMC almost the whole way.”

At one airport they had to do a missed approach and that cost them some time. But the weather opened up and by the end of the first day, “we were almost back on schedule within a couple of minutes,” McCardell said.

ATC was very accommodating. They had called a couple of towers to let them know about the record attempt and that they may be asking for a clearance through a Class B to expedite the flight time. “In Pikesville, Kentucky we called the tower and said we’re coming in and want to do it in minimum time,” Schutter said. “We want to get clearance to takeoff immediately and the tower controller held somebody for takeoff so we could go right away. That was pretty neat.”

Unfortunately, as the clock approached midnight, the dream of a setting a record turned into a nightmare. On takeoff from Marianna, Florida (KMAI) the prop governor appeared to be giving out as the engine had sudden deviations of 200 to 250 rpm. They safely returned to the field, but the record attempt was over. 

Kirk Schutter’s daughter designed a 48x48 flight logo that they embroidered on shirts and made a decal that they put on the nose of the Rockwell Commander. When they were in the hangar assessing the maintenance issue they noticed the decal was worn and a bit damaged.

“This decal had torn back. Instead of looking like it said 48x48, it looked like it said 18x48,” Schutter said. “We started counting our legs and sure enough that was our eighteenth leg that we had completed when we had the breakdown.” 

Kirk Schutter and Kirk McCardell had logged between 13 to 14 hours of flight time and traveled 1,305 miles. They had landed in 18 states from Vermont all the way down to the Florida panhandle, but they never made it across the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains or across the northern plains back to Detroit. Fortunately, the maintenance issue was minor and the next morning they were able to fly home.

The longest planned leg was Elkhart, Kansas (KEHA) to Framington, New Mexico (KFMN), which would have been 307 miles and about 2.5 hours of flight time. The shortest leg was flown from New Bedford, Massachusetts (KEWB) to Quonset State, Rhode Island (KOQU) covering 21 miles in 11 minutes.

They talked about making another attempt but not seriously. “For me, the balloon was deflated,” Schutter said.

Earlier this year, two other sets of pilots set out to break the record and both successfully landed in all 48 states in less than 48 hours. Bob Reynolds and John Skittone set the record of 38 hours 13 minutes in late May flying a Cirrus SR22, which you can hear about on AOPA’s Hangar Talk Podcast. In June, Barry Behnfeldt and Aaron Wilson accomplished the feat in 44 hours and 7 minutes in a Piper Saratoga.

Ironically, Kirk Schutter apparently inspired Barry and Aaron. Schutter mentioned the record attempt to a first officer he was flying with, and that information got to another Delta captain in Detroit – Barry Benhfeldt. “He picked it up indirectly from me through conversation,” Schutter said. “He took it and Delta Airlines loved it too. I had a lot of people call and ask if I heard about this guy.”

Although the two Kirks didn’t set the record, they both thought it was a great experience and something that brought pride to the Eximious Flying Club members. “We got nothing but unending support from the club as far as people putting their time and energy in,” McCardell said. “I think I’m going to try to do it again,” Schutter added. “Casually…no record. I’ll take my girlfriend.”



Eximious Flying Club


Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport (KDET) - Detroit, MI Oakland-Troy Airport

(KVLL) - Troy, MI

Ray Community Airport (57D) – Ray, MI




[email protected] or (313) 515-0909

Year formed



1977 Rockwell Commander C144 ($206/hr)

1984 Piper Archer II (expected $140/hr)

2010 Flight Design CTLS ($105/hr) Hobbs


Rates are Tach time, wet for the Commander and Archer, Hobbs time for he CTLS

Joining fee



$100 per month


Approximately 50




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