Aviator Steve Fossett became the first person to fly solo non-stop around the world without refueling when he landed the Global Flyer experimental plane in Salina, Kansas Thursday. Thousands of spectators at the Salina airport cheered as Steve Fossett emerged from the cramped cockpit of the Global Flyer and waved.
Steve & Sir Richard celebrate at Salina airport Kansas
Moments later, he was greeted by Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways, which had sponsored the flight. "He is the first person in the world to go around it solo" said Mr. Branson.
Then Mr. Fossett addressed the crowd and those listening to live broadcasts of the event worldwide. "That was something I wanted to do for a long time, a major ambition. I had the good fortune of having the right people associated with it," he said.
The Global Flyer is constructed of carbon fiber material, which makes it light and flexible, but also capable of carrying the fuel, the engine, the instruments and the pilot at high altitudes.
The plane took off from the Salina airport Monday and made it more than half way around the world before mission controllers began to worry about the rate of fuel consumption being registered by on-board fuel gages. On Wednesday, as he flew near Hawaii, Mr. Fossett decided to continue on, using abundant tail winds to boost his speed and save fuel.
When the plane landed, it had fuel to spare, but the aircraft's designers say it would not have made it all the way without the help of the winds. The official time for the flight was 67 hours, two minutes and 38 seconds.
Although the flight established a milestone in aviation history, it is also considered important for having tested some of the innovations built into the craft and its flight operations.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, known as NASA, has expressed interest in using the Global Flyer to test new communication systems. The company that built the aircraft, California-based Scaled Composites, also built the SpaceShipOne craft, which last year won the X-Prize for carrying a pilot and load briefly out of earth's atmosphere.
Global Flyer over the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Global Flyer presses on despite fuel fears: 11:16 03 March 2005
Despite a fuel shortage, adventurer Steve Fossett decided on Wednesday to continue his quest to fly around the globe, non-stop, in under 80 hours. At 1030 GMT on Thursday he was nearing the west coast of the US in the experimental Global Flyer aircraft.
A loss of about 1180 kilograms of fuel - a full load being 8200 kg - caused Mission Control to consider landing the aeroplane in Hawaii after 50 hours in the air. Fossett started his journey in Salina, Kansas, US, on Monday and aims to return there in what would be the first solo non-stop flight around the world.
"I hit the jet stream very well and that put us in a better fuel position," Fossett told Mission Control via satellite phone on Wednesday. "I have every hope of making it to Salina tomorrow."
But Fossett has already crushed one world record on this trip. On Wednesday, he broke the world record for "distance without landing." A B-52 aircraft set that record in 1962.
Mission Control calculated that if Global Flyer chose not land in Hawaii, it would have 2610 miles (4200 kilometres) of ocean to cross before it reached the next possible landing strip on Catalina Island, off the California coast.
Officials began questioning whether Global Flyer would finish its mission on Wednesday afternoon after discovering that the plane had much less fuel left than it should have had. "It is too soon for any confidence that Steve will make it the whole way around," said Richard Branson, head of the aircraft's sponsor, Virgin Atlantic.
Although the team decided to press ahead with the first half of the Pacific Ocean - tailwinds of 100 knots had helped the plane make good time - the decision was not taken lightly: "Both Steve and I have tackled the Pacific before on our ballooning attempts," said Branson, "and we learnt many times never to underestimate this ocean."
One of the possible explanations for the loss of fuel is a fuel leak in the flight's first three-and-a-half hours. Mission Control shunted fuel from tanks in the wings to tanks closer to the engine on Wednesday to ensure maximum availability.
GLOBAL FLYER LINKS :
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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