Mission accomplished in round-the-world flight

GlobalFlyer aircraft touches down in Kansas as solo pilot overcomes fuel scare and fatigue. Photos: Cruising with GlobalFlyer

Solo pilot Steve Fossett has completed a daring bid to circumnavigate the globe in a single flight, overcoming a fuel scare and extreme fatigue.

The GlobalFlyer aircraft touched down at 1:50 p.m. local time Thursday (11:50 a.m. PT) in Salina, Kan., where its journey had begun GlobalFlyer two days earlier. The total flight time was just over 67 hours, well ahead of the goal of 80 hours.

Beyond that, the 60-year-old Fossett made aviation history with the first solo nonstop flight around the world--setting what fellow adventurer Richard Branson called "last great aviation record remaining." The effort was sponsored by Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline.

"I am very lucky guy," Fossett said in a statement. "I got to achieve my ambition."

That's in spite of an early threat of failure--less than four hours after takeoff, the plane's fuel tank unexpectedly registered a 2,600-pound loss of fuel. The aircraft began the flight at a weight of 22,100 pounds, with its fuel accounting for 18,100 pounds.

Weather conditions were crucial to the decision to continue the flight after the fuel problem arose. Tailwinds of between 100 and 130 knots helped the plane across the Pacific Ocean from the coast of Japan to Hawaii.

Getting the aircraft past Hawaii hinged on the success of a critical procedure to ensure that fuel drained properly through GlobalFlyer's 17 tanks. It's unclear whether the initial fuel loss was caused by a leak or by evaporation.

The custom-built plane was designed by Burt Rutan , designer of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's SpaceShipOne . Its slender 114-foot wingspan--two and a half times the plane's length--is interrupted by a small cockpit/engine structure and two external booms that house landing gear and fuel.

This wasn't Fossett's only solo round-the-world flight, though it was the first in a fixed-wing plane. In 2002, after five failed efforts, he circumnavigated the globe in a hot-air balloon.

 

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