Fossett ready for non-stop tour


Some time this month, 60-year-old thrill-seeker Steve Fossett plans to climb into the small cockpit of an experimental jet aircraft and attempt to fly around the world without refuelling, without company and without sleeping.


To make the voyage before delirium sets in, Fossett needs to fly fast. But to set the record for the first non-stop solo flight around the world, he cannot take any shortcuts either.  The Virgin Atlantic-backed GlobalFlyer, a gangly and delicate aircraft designed under the keen eye and artistic hand of Burt Rutan, was built with these two goals in mind.  Rutan has tackled this problem before. Nearly two decades ago, Rutan and his team at their California-based Scaled Composites company built an aeroplane named Voyager.




Fossett has collected many world records



It was flown by Rutan's own brother, Dick, and co-pilot Jeane Yeager. The pair took the vehicle around the world using only the fuel it carried at take-off. It was a difficult, but successful journey.  "Voyager was so fragile, so dangerous," Dick Rutan said in an interview. "I don't think the Voyager could have made it if we tried 100 more times."  The plane, which now hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, served as a model when Rutan started working on an even more challenging solo-pilot design.


Riding a river of wind


Like Voyager, GlobalFlyer is a three-hulled vessel crafted from a graphite-epoxy composite.

Fuel compartments are crammed inside the twin outer booms. Both planes have wingspans suitable for a Boeing 737 - Voyager's measures 110ft (33.5m), GlobalFlyer's is 114ft (35m).

Designed to minimise drag, the wings change shape during flight, sagging under the weight of the fuel during take-off, flexing upward during ascent and flattening at cruise altitude.  Rather than Voyager's twin piston engines, however, GlobalFlyer has a single turbofan jet engine more commonly used to zip lightweight business jets, such as Cessna Citation Jets and Raytheon Premiers, through the skies.


To feed the turbofan engine, which consumes more fuel than Voyager's piston engines, GlobalFlyer will have to carry nearly three times the amount of fuel of its predecessor.  "We're 83% fuel at take-off," GlobalFlyer chief engineer and test pilot Jon Karkow told the BBC News website. "Most every internal part of the plane is filled with fuel."



Despite the bigger fuel load, GlobalFlyer will fall short of its range without an additional push from the jet stream, a naturally occurring high-altitude horizontal wind that moves between 50 and 100 knots (90-180km/h).




Fossett, who will not be wearing a pressurised suit, will aim for an altitude at least 45,000ft (14km) above the planet's surface, and up to about 52,000ft (16km) - well above commercial airline traffic and weather systems.  With GlobalFlyer's 18,000lbs (8,100kg) fuel load, it will take Fossett more than 14 hours to reach his cruise altitude.  To get there, however, Fossett must first pilot GlobalFlyer into the sky.  The plane needs a long runway for take-off and originally had been expected to fly from Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave, Scaled's home town.

But the team decided to look inland, just in case the fuel runs low and Fossett has to touch down short of his mark. Take-off and landing are now targeted for Salina, Kansas.  The team plans one more test flight - 23 already have been completed - before attempting the first solo, unrefuelled, around-the-world mission.  The flight, which has been repeatedly delayed, is now scheduled to take place no earlier than 8 February.


It will have to be an ideal day, with almost no air turbulence from ground level up to 45,000ft, and no chance of ice formation - the plane has no de-icing equipment.  That said, engineers would like it to be a cold day, as cooler temperatures make for denser air and an easier take-off.  "It will take off at the structural margin [of the aircraft]," said Karkow. "The reserve strength is not very much."


Added crew chief Philip Grassa: "There's only so much runway. It's a matter of finding good air."

If Fossett has to abort the take-off, he will have little room to navigate. The Salina runway is 12,300ft (3,750m) long and has a 1,000ft (300m) overrun.  "The airplane might not appreciate it too much if it goes into the rough," Karkow said. "GlobalFlyer is very demanding of the pilot. He will have to be very alert and very skilled at handling the controls."




Rutan's brother, Dick, completed the challenge in Voyager, with Jeane Yeager




Alone, but hardly forgotten


Though no one will be sharing GlobalFlyer's seven-foot cabin with Fossett, he will have plenty of contact with the outside world.  Virgin Atlantic Airways, which paid for the plane, has arranged for a US space agency (Nasa) video feed to be relayed through its television satellites.

Parts of the flight may be televised live; other film will be used for a documentary on the project.

Fossett also will have an Iridium satellite phone and text messaging system, and, at times, a partner in the sky: his own high-speed Cessna Citation 10 jet.


Aboard this craft will be Fossett's backup pilot and financier, Virgin Group Chairman, Sir Richard Branson, who plans to conduct live interviews with Fossett throughout the flight.  Flight controllers also will be monitoring Fossett to make sure he does not fall asleep.  The plane is equipped with autopilots, but Fossett needs to be alert to monitor the equipment. For three days - perhaps longer - Fossett will have to get by with 10- to 15-minute catnaps.




GlobalFlyer concept from designer Burt Rutan





To set the record, Fossett will have to fly faster and higher than any previous flights, including the 1986 flight of Voyager. If Fossett is successful, he could break between three and seven different records.

After take-off from Kansas, GlobalFlyer will head east, following the jet stream winds over the Atlantic Ocean to the United Kingdom.  From there, Fossett will head southeast across the Mediterranean and the Gulf before turning east toward Pakistan, India, China and Japan.

The final leg of the journey will be over the Pacific Ocean toward Hawaii, then across the west coast of the United States and back to Kansas.


Major cities along the route include Montreal, London, Paris, Rome, Cairo, Manama, Karachi, Calcutta, Shanghai, Tokyo, Honolulu and Los Angeles.





Fossett's appetite for adventure is unbounded. An American millionaire who made his fortune trading in the high-risk commodities market, Fossett is best known for his 2002 solo voyage around the world in a hot-air balloon.

It was just the latest for a man who has circumnavigated the globe in boats, aeroplanes and balloons. At the last count, he holds some 60 or more world records.  "The endurance aspects make it very interesting to me," Fossett said in interview for the website.

"I am in it for the accomplishment, for doing a unique aviation feat that very few pilots could do," he said.  "The hallmarks of aviation are that solo flights are ranked higher than crew flights just because of the difficulty and the level of self-reliance required."






(1) Fuel tanks

Gross weight is 10 tonnes; empty weight is 1.5t

(2) Engine

Williams FJ44-3 ATW (10,200 Newtons of thrust)

(3) Cockpit

Pressurised and large enough for pilot to lie down


11.7m; Height - 3.6m; Wingspan - 35m


in excess of 460km/h; 290mph; 250 knots




Steve Fossett, the 60 -year-old American millionaire and his crew of 12, sailed into the record books at around 1600 BST on Monday 5th April 2004.  The 125-foot catamaran Cheyenne shaved almost six days off the existing record after crossing the official start and finish line at Le Stiff lighthouse on Ouessant.






Gold Air Medal, Federation Aeronautique Internationale, 2002


Explorers Medal, The Explorers Club, 2003


Medaille de l'Aeronautique, France, March 2003


Grand Medaille de l'Aero Club de France, March 2003


Gold Medal, The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, April 2003


Prix De La Vaulx, Fédération Aéronautique Intérnationale, 1995, 1997,1998 and 2002.


Prix de l'Aventure Sportive, Academie des Sports, France, March 2002


Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, U.S. Sailing Association, 2001


Balloon and Airship Hall of Fame, FAI-CIA, Inducted June 1997


Silver Buffalo, Boy Scouts of America, May 1999


Distinguished Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts of America, May 1998


Harmon Trophy, National Aeronautic Association, October 1998


Distinction in Exploration, National Geographic Society, November 1998


Victor Award (Special), Victor Sports Awards, July 1995 and June 1997


Diplome de Montgolfier, Fédération Aéronautique Intérnationale, March 1996


Hall of Fame, Aviation Week ans Space Technology, Laureate for Operations, March 2003




Steve Fossett





Aero Club de France


National Yacht Club of Ireland


Academie Nationale de l'Air et de l'Elspace


Yacht Club de France (2001-02)


Circumnavigators Club


The Adventurers Club


Newport Harbor Yacht Club


Royal Temple Yacht Club


Canterbury (NZ) Gliding Club





Steve Fossett began his world navigation attempt Monday 1 March 2005













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About the Aircraft  Steve Fossett Biography  Richard Branson Biography  Virgin Atlantic




Kansas start for Virgin attempt  06 Dec 04 |  Science/Nature

SpaceShipOne rockets to success  04 Oct 04 |  Science/Nature

Burt Rutan: Aviation pioneer  04 Oct 04 |  Science/Nature

Hopes soar for solo record plane  14 Aug 04 |  Science/Nature

Testing begins for global plane  12 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature

Wraps come off solo record plane  08 Jan 04 |  Science/Nature





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