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Global Flyer Breaks Solo Non-stop Flight Record

  • Friday, 4th March 2005
  • Reading time: about 5 minutes

The composite ladened, three-hulled Virgin Atlantic Globalflyer, has landed safely at the Salina Municipal Airport following a 67 hour non-stop solo flight around the globe.

The aeroplane, constructed from light-weight graphite epoxy and Aramid honeycomb materials, achieved its feat by riding jet stream winds across the Atlantic to the UK before heading southeast towards Egypt and then looping over Pakistan, India, China and Japan.

A crowd of 8,000 people cheered as the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, piloted by the American millionaire, Steve Fossett, touched down at Salina, Kansas at 7.48pm (GMT) after travelling 23,000 miles around the world.

The Plane took off on Monday, after weeks of cancelled starts due to treacherous weather, with 18,100lb of fuel and at 2pm (GMT) he had 1,900lb left to complete the flight over mid-west America. He had flown up to 400mph after hitching a ride on 115mph tail winds on the jet stream.

At the start of the flight, Steve experienced intermittent failures with the Global Positioning System and then, as the flight continued, fuel readings indicated that the aircraft had lost a significant amount of fuel shortly after take-off. Both of these problems were serious threats to the flight’s continuation. It was ’touch and go’ at times, but Steve seemed to have luck on his side, with good tailwinds pushing him along across the last leg of the Pacific Ocean.

To claim the record, the aeroplane had to travel a total of 36,787 kilometres (22,858 miles) in less than 80 hours. To achieve this, the aircraft had to reach high altitude and fly on the jet stream winds more than 45,000 feet above sea level, 15,000 ft higher than a commercial airliner. For this to happen the aircraft needed to be as light as possible.

Designed by Burt Rutan and built by his firm Scaled Composites, the lightweight GlobalFlyer is made of carbon fibre and in an attempt to reduce weight, contains no metal in the fuselage. The skin is a sandwich of carbon fibre and aramid honeycomb with particularly stiff carbon fibres used for the wings.

GlobalFlyer carried 13 fuel tanks, which were fully filled for the trip and accounting for 83% of the craft’s total 9979 kilograms during take-off.

As Steve exited the cockpit and waved to the crowds, he managed to gingerly stand up and walk even though he, as expected, appeared to be weary and tired.

When asked how he was feeling, Steve remarked: “”That was a difficult trip. I mean it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. To be on duty for three days and night with virtually no sleep.”” Steve added: “”I was in control and I think I was able to make rational decisions and didn’t make major errors, which is a great danger when you get this tired.”” He was very relieved and added, “”It happened successfully and on the first attempt.””

Despite admitting that he did not sleep at all in the first day and only had half a dozen naps for the rest of the time, Steve said: “”I feel great. Well, yes I could do with a shower and I could do with a little sleep, but I really do feel great.””

Of the crowds Steve said: “”I do these things because I want to do them for my self esteem and my personal satisfaction, and this is the first time a big crowd has come out to support me on a project and in the records that I do. I think that’s a really good sign that all these people share the enthusiasm and excitement for an airplane adventure.””

Steve said the record was “”the most important aviation record yet to be done, but it’s not the last important record…I’m not ready to announce any new projects, but, in fact, I have three projects in planning right now.””

Sir Richard Branson, who was there to congratulate Steve immediately on disembarking from the aircraft, gave him a high five and soaked him in champagne. Later Richard, who can now have his watch back, said: “”I poured the champagne over him to try and cool him down a bit…he stinks to high heaven.””

Of Steve’s condition Richard added: “”He is wide awake. I just asked him whether he might go back and have a sleep and he said “”no I plan to party,”” so I suspect he’ll still be going for another 24 hours.””

Richard also maintained that Steve is just relieved to be alive and thought that Steve began to relax and enjoy the flight when he had crossed the Pacific Ocean.

The entire Mission Control team was there on Steve’s arrival. Jon Karkow, from Scaled Composites, thanked everyone involved in the project and said: “”It’s been a real team effort.”” And when Steve was reunited with Kevin Stass, Mission Control Director, all he needed to say to the man who has guided him throughout the flight was “”what a job””.

Although the flight has been recognized as the first solo trip around the world by Guinness World Records, it is still to be sanctioned by the National Aeronautique Association (NAA). When it is, it should be recognized as the fastest non-stop, non-refueled circumnavigation ever.

GlobalFlyer is a successor to Rutan’s aircraft Voyager, which in 1986 became the first plane to fly around the world non-stop carrying two passengers. The craft took nine days to make the journey.

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