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In the California high desert Virgin Atlantic and Scaled Composites yesterday unveiled the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer – a 114-foot wingspan jet in which Steve Fossett aims to become the first solo pilot to fly non-stop around the world later this year.
The pioneering aircraft, claimed to be the world’s most efficient jet plane, has been designed and built by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites. The unveiling was the latest project milestone, following four years of design and construction and marking the beginning of an exciting final phase of development and flight-testing.
“”It is fantastic to see this unique experimental aircraft in all its glory,”” said Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic. “”This has been a dream of Steve’s for quite some time, and Virgin Atlantic is proud and delighted to sponsor this historic project.””
“”I am truly impressed, almost beyond words, looking at this amazing and beautiful airplane,”” said Fossett. “”Burt Rutan’s team at Scaled have turned a dream into engineering reality. And I consider myself enormously fortunate to have as project ‘patron’ my friend and former ballooning partner Sir Richard Branson.””
Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer is a single pilot, single engine turbofan aircraft specifically designed for one mission — a non-stop global circumnavigation. Fuel load, weight and strength are paramount. The main structure is constructed entirely from advanced composite materials and the aircraft can carry more than four times its own weight in fuel — enough to power the specially designed Williams FJ44-3 jet engine for the entire flight. At take off the plane (including fuel and pilot Fossett) will weigh 22,006 lbs. Less than 80 hours and some 23,000 miles later, it will have shed 18,000 lbs. of fuel to land near its dry weight of a little under 4,000 lbs.
Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer will fly at altitudes up to 52,000 feet and travel at speeds in excess of 250 knots (287 mph, 463 kph). Careful flight planning, weather routing and navigation should allow the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer to benefit from the high-altitude jet stream, adding speed, conserving fuel and enabling the mission to meet its target time of 80 hours.
According to Fossett and Branson, the next steps in the attempt to achieve the first great aviation feat of the 21st century include flight testing by Scaled Composites test pilots, selecting a launch airport with a 12,000-foot runway, fine tuning the route and establishing a mission control site. The flight will take off from a centrally located site in the U.S. in either April or November of 2004, depending on test results and the jet stream season.
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