Few airstrips on
Earth are as remote as the 6,000 foot paved runway on Canton Island.
Built in 1941, it was an important transpacific refueling stop during
World War Two and, during the 1950s, hosted the Boeing Stratocruisers
of Pan American and other airlines. With the advent of non-stop jet
service across the Pacific in the mid-1960s, scheduled air service to
Canton came to an end. Aside from a USAF missile test program which
was based there from 1970 to 1976, the island was essentially abandoned.
In 1979 Canton became part of the new island nation of Kiribati and
the spelling of its name was changed to Kanton. Today the only residents
of Kanton are a few Kiribati families who take weather observations
and maintain the airfield. Last year, a re-enactment of Earhart’s world
flight refueled at Kanton using avgas that was specially shipped in
at great expense. The jet fuel that is now on the island has been there
for nearly a year and cannot be assumed to be safe.
The problem has
been finding a way to fly a team there and back without relying on refueling
at Kanton. Normally, the only available refueling stop enroute from
Hawaii is Christmas Island (Kiritimati), which is also part of Kiribati.
But flying to Kanton via Kiritimati means making a considerable dogleg
which puts you at Kanton without enough fuel to get back to Kiritimati.