Thursday, March 3, 2005
Fossett Breaks Nonstop Solo Flight Record
By JOHN MILBURN, Associated Press Writer
SALINA, Kan. – After covering 23,000 miles in 67 hours, Steve Fossett was ready for a bath, a good meal and a nap. First, though, he had some champagne to sip.
The millionaire adventurer on Thursday became the first person to fly around the world alone without stopping or refueling. He completed his journey in the same place he started it, here in this north central Kansas town of more than 46,000. Tens of thousands were at the airport to watch him land his custom-built GlobalFlyer.
“Believe me, it’s great to be back on the ground,” Fossett said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
At times, it seemed Fossett would not to achieve what he described as “my ambition.” Problems with the jet’s fuel system forced Fossett to consider cutting his trip short.
But like the fictional Dorothy who needed help to get home from the land of Oz, Fossett relied on his engineering wizards to help him return safely to Kansas. Unsure of just how much fuel the adventurer had, the team followed a pink line plotting Fossett’s progress.
“It would not have been possible without the right people being associated with the project,” Fossett said. “I am very lucky, I got to achieve my ambition.”
Fossett celebrated with his crew members and supporters Thursday night in Salina.
Fossett, 60, who failed five times before successfully circumnavigating the globe solo in a balloon, needed just one try to make the trip in a plane. He holds many other records as a balloonist, pilot and sailor.
The GlobalFlyer, designed by the same engineer who came up with the Voyager aircraft that first completed the trip in 1986 with two pilots aboard, touched down on the center line at the Salina airport at 1:50 p.m. Thursday.
Immediately after leaving the cockpit, a jubilant Fossett hugged his wife, Peggy, and was congratulated by Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic founder who financed the flight.
“That was something I wanted to do for a long time, a major ambition,” Fossett said.
Branson grabbed a bottle of champagne from Fossett, shook it up and sprayed down the pilot.
“It’s been a magnificent trip,” Branson said. “He was obviously over the moon about it.”
Fossett said he survived on 12 milkshakes and water during the flight. He said his main problems were headaches, which went away when he drank water, and a lack of sleep. Fossett used bottles as his bathroom.
He said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who welcomed him at the airport and who watched the flight on television and the Internet. But he insisted his adventures were not publicity stunts.
“I would do these things if nobody was paying attention,” Fossett said.
The flight looked as though it would end Wednesday before crossing the Pacific. Engineers at mission control in Kansas determined the GlobalFlyer lost 2,600 of the original 18,100 pounds of jet fuel. The loss took Fossett’s jet down to the bare minimum needed to return to Kansas.
Branson and Fossett agreed the fuel most likely was syphoned off through vents on the two main boom tanks during the early stages of the flight.
Facing a decision near Hawaii about whether to land or press ahead over the vast Pacific Ocean for the U.S. mainland, Fossett told his team, “Let’s go for it.” Hours later, pushed by strong tail winds that left him with enough in the tanks to finish the global trek, he safely crossed over Los Angeles.
Fossett chose Salina because he needed a long runway for the takeoff and landing. The runway in Salina – once used to train WWII bomber crews – extends 12,300 feet.
Fossett, 60, set his ballooning record in 2002, taking off and landing in Australia. He also has swum the English Channel, taken part in the Iditarod sled dog race and driven in the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race.
The GlobalFlyer’s trip broke several other aviation records, including the longest flight by a jet without refueling. The record was more than 12,000 miles, set by a B-52 bomber in 1962.
Aviation pioneer Wiley Post made the first solo around-the-world trip in 1933, taking more than seven days and stopping numerous times. The first nonstop global flight without refueling was made in a propeller-driven aircraft in 1986 by Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan, brother of GlobalFlyer designer Burt Rutan.