GLOBAL FLYER - LONGEST MANNED FLIGHT - 11 February 2006
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Pilot Steve Fossett has stretched his wings again by completing the longest nonstop flight in aviation history Saturday just before making a dramatic emergency landing at an airport 100 miles outside of London.
almost ran out of runway when taking off in Florida.
High over India, turbulence came close to breaking the
plane apart. Minutes away from his scheduled landing, a
power failure forced an emergency descent. Yet despite
these ordeals, aviator Steve Fossett has clocked up
another record: the longest ever non-stop flight.
Once aloft, the GlobalFlyer was hindered by a weak jet stream across America and the Atlantic and severe turbulence over Asia, which threatened to damage the lightweight craft. The trip was also a physical challenge for Fossett. Temperatures topped 50 °C at times, and he had little sleep during the 76
Fighting through sleep deprivation, severe turbulence and a last gasp emergency landing, Steve Fossett broke the record for the longest nonstop flight in aviation history. The 61-year-old adventurer piloted his lightweight experimental plane, Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, to set a new record of 26,389 miles in about 76 hours despite a complete electronic failure that threatened to turn his glorious return into a nightmare.
Fossett put emergency landing procedures into action when a generator light started to flash upon his descent. The mechanical crisis forced him to land Saturday at Bournemouth International Airport, in southern England, instead of his planned landing point in nearby Kent, where hundreds of well wishers were gathered to greet him. “He burst two tires on landing and the poor Global Flyer had to be dragged off the runway,” said Steve Ridgeway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, the company sponsoring Fossett's record bid.
Ground control confirmed Fossett had broken the distance record of 24,987 miles as his plane flew over Shannon, Ireland, after crossing the Atlantic, his ground team said.
That eclipsed the 1986 record set by the lightweight Voyager aircraft, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. It also beats the balloon record of 25,361 miles set in 1999 by the Breitling Orbiter 3.
Fossett arrived at Kent International Airport on a private jet alongside the billionaire Virgin Atlantic owner Sir Richard Branson, where he was greeted by his wife, Peggy, and rapturous applause from the assembled crowd. Stepping onto the tarmac, dressed in his silver flight suit, he spoke of his delight and relief at completing the flight. He said he realized he was in trouble when he began his descent for Kent and a light came on indicating the plane's generator had failed, prompting him to put emergency procedures in place.
“I was really lucky to make it here today, there was a lot going on. The tension of the final part really took it out of me, but I will be fine in the morning,” he told reporters. The finale was one of several episodes that nearly doomed his 3˝-day voyage. During takeoff Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, his plane lost about 750 pounds of fuel in a leak – and he nearly ran out of runway. “I had to pull up with all my might” to get the plane in the air before the end of the airstrip.
Severe turbulence over India “almost broke the plane apart,” he said, forcing him to strap on a parachute. After the news conference he was presented with the Guinness World Record for the longest flight in history. Branson, who was beaming with pride throughout the conference, said Fossett's record was a superhuman effort. “He's just flown further than man, or woman, has ever flown,” said Branson. “He has had pretty much no sleep since he set off from Kennedy a few days ago, and he has been through an incredible amount.”
Fossett already holds the record for flying solo around the globe in a balloon and for being the first person to circle the globe solo in a plane without stopping or refueling. That flight last year lasted 67 hours and was hampered by a fuel leak. A fuel leak delayed Fossett's scheduled takeoff from Tuesday to Wednesday and the plane's ventilation system malfunctioned midway through the trip, causing temperatures in the cockpit to rise to as much as 130 degrees. Fossett was forced to drink a large part of his water supply earlier than planned because of the heat, his flight team said.
While in the air, Fossett took power naps no longer than 10 minutes each and drank a steady diet of milkshakes. His plane was equipped with a parachute pack holding a one-man raft and a satellite rescue beacon. The generator of Fossett's Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer failed just miles from his destination of Kent International Airport, which meant a total electrical breakdown, according to the GlobalFlyer Web site.
Fossett, 61, the American millionaire adventurer who made history last year with the first solo nonstop flight around the world, set this record by traveling 26,389.3 miles and was in flight for 76 hours 45 minutes before landing at about 5 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
He surpassed his goal of covering 26,160 miles in about 80 hours. The prior record was 25,361 miles, set in 1999 by the Breitling Orbiter balloon. By comparison, Fossett's round-the-world flight in March 2005 covered just less than 23,000 miles.
The specially designed ultralight GlobalFlye - with a wingspan as wide as an 11-story building is tall - lifted off Wednesday morning from the 15,000-foot space shuttle landing runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Fossett flew a full trip eastward around the world before crossing the Atlantic a second time on the last leg. He took the plane to an altitude of about 45,000 feet to take advantage of the high-speed jetstream flowing west to east over the Northern Hemisphere.
The veteran aviator was forced to make an emergency Mayday call through to Bournemouth International Airport and was given a short landing window. "If we didn't get him down in fifteen minutes, he would have had to have ditched the plane," Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Steve Ridgeway said, according the Global Flyer site.
The generator failure occurred just after his billionaire friend and sponsor Richard Branson had called Fossett to congratulate him on his record, which he broke when be flew over Shannon, Ireland, the site said. "On landing, Steve burst two tires, and his windscreen was iced up so much that he couldn't see even meters in front of him," according to the site. "Not only all that, but he had only 200 pounds of fuel left, which, if he had continued, may well have turned into another emergency!" "We told him he had to land alive," said Branson, who flew behind Fossett in a chase plane on the final leg. "He actually had to land alive, because if he didn't land alive he wouldn't get the record."
In addition to the generator problem, GlobalFlyer's ventilation system malfunctioned midway through the trip, causing temperatures in the 7-foot cockpit to rise as much as 130 degrees. He also contended with severe turbulence over India. After a medical check-up, Fossett flew from Bournemouth to Kent, arriving at about 6:30 p.m. GMT in his private jet with Branson. After nearly four days existing on nothing but milkshakes, Fossett toasted his achievement with champagne. Asked what he would do next, he said simply: "Catch up on some sleep."
Steve completed the longest non-stop flight in aviation history with an emergency landing, flying 42,468 km in about 76 hours but stopping early because of mechanical problems.
Ground control said Fossett, 61, broke the airplane distance record of 40,210 km while his lightweight experimental plane was flying over Shannon, Ireland. He was then forced to land the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer at Bournemouth International Airport, in southern England, instead of at a military air strip in nearby Kent because of generator problems. "He burst two tires on landing and the poor Global Flyer had to be dragged off the runway," said Steve Ridgeway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, the company sponsoring Fossett's record bid.
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