This warm and bright
day in Salina, Kansas will go down in history as the day that Steve
Fossett set a great aviation world record for speed around the world
solo, non-stop and non-refuelled.
After 67 hours and 1
minute of gruelling sleep deprivation and 12 unappealing diet
milkshakes, Steve finally touched down in front of an excited crowd
of public and press at Salina Municipal Airport at 19:48:56UTC,
despite having some very worrying problems earlier in the flight.
At the start of the
flight, Steve experienced intermittent failures with the Global
Positioning System and then, as the flight continued, fuel readings
indicated that the aircraft had lost a significant amount of fuel
shortly after take-off. Both of these problems were serious threats
to the flight’s continuation. It was ’touch and go’ at times, but
Steve seemed to have luck on his side, with good tailwinds pushing
him along across the last leg of the Pacific Ocean.
As Steve exited the
cockpit and waved to the crowds, he managed to gingerly stand up and
walk even though he, as expected, appeared to be weary and tired.
His happiness at completing the attempt and getting back on the land
to see his wife Peggy, however, was obvious and his smile said it
When asked how he
was feeling, Steve remarked: "That was a difficult trip. I mean it
was one of the hardest things I've ever done. To be on duty for
three days and night with virtually no sleep." Steve added: "I was
in control and I think I was able to make rational decisions and
didn't make major errors, which is a great danger when you get this
tired." He was very relieved and added, "It happened successfully
and on the first attempt."
that he did not sleep at all in the first day and only had half a
dozen naps for the rest of the time, Steve said: "I feel great.
Well, yes I could do with a shower and I could do with a little
sleep, but I really do feel great."
Steve added that he
was looking forward to having a real dinner after all those
Of the crowds Steve
said: "I do these things because I want to do them for my self
esteem and my personal satisfaction, and this is the first time a
big crowd has come out to support me on a project and in the records
that I do. I think that's a really good sign that all these people
share the enthusiasm and excitement for an airplane adventure."
Steve said the
record was "the most important aviation record yet to be done, but
it's not the last important record...I'm not ready to announce any
new projects, but, in fact, I have three projects in planning right
Sir Richard Branson,
who was there to congratulate Steve immediately on disembarking from
the aircraft, gave him a high five and soaked him in champagne.
Later Richard, who can now have his watch back, said: "I poured the
champagne over him to try and cool him down a bit...he stinks to
Of Steve's condition
Richard added: "He is wide awake. I just asked him whether he might
go back and have a sleep and he said "no I plan to party," so I
suspect he'll still be going for another 24 hours."
maintained that Steve is just relieved to be alive and thought that
Steve began to relax and enjoy the flight when he had crossed the
The entire Mission Control team was there on Steve's arrival. Jon
Karkow, from Scaled Composites, thanked everyone involved in the
project and said: "It's been a real team effort." And when Steve was
reunited with Kevin Stass, Mission Control Director, all he needed
to say to the man who has guided him throughout the flight was "what
Although the flight
has been recognized as the first solo trip around the world by
Guinness World Records, it is still to be sanctioned by the National
Aeronautique Association (NAA). When it is, it should be recognized
as the fastest non-stop, non-refuelled circumnavigation ever.
'Model 311' aircraft is a single engine turbofan aircraft
specifically designed for non-stop global circumnavigation by a solo
pilot with no passengers. The 'Voyager' aircraft which took Dick
Rutan and Jeanna Yeager around the world non-stop could well be
considered 311's 'big sister', but evolution and invention on the
part of Burt himself and Jon Karkow has certainly played its part in
making this aircraft unique.
Aerodynamics are key
to this aircraft, and its configuration is optimised for range and
fuel efficiency. The aircraft's aerodynamics have been designed
using extremely sophisticated computing technology that uses
computational fluid dynamics to predict how the aircraft's surfaces
will behave in flight. The aircraft is so aerodynamically perfect,
that the only practical way to descend is using drag parachutes,
like the ones in the picture above. As the aircraft is only required
to land once, these won't be detachable and will take time to reset.
The aircraft is a
trimaran-like construction with two huge external 'booms' which hold
the landing gear, and 5,454 pounds of fuel on either side of the
pilot's cockpit in the centre on top of which is the single Williams
turbofan jet engine. The construction materials used for the
structure of this aircraft are all graphite/epoxy. The stiffest
carbon fibres are used in the construction of the wings, and the
skin is a sandwich of graphite/epoxy and Aramid honeycomb.
The aircraft doesn't
have what is known as 'de-icing' or 'anti-ice' measures. This means
that it will be unable to fly in 'icing' conditions. In addition, it
won't cope with turbulence very well in the early part of the flight
when the aircraft is heavy and structural margins low; so weather
will be an important factor in choosing when and where to take off
The pilot, Steve,
will sit in the main fuselage, the centre pod, just behind the nose
landing gear and below the engine. He'll also be sitting in front of
the main fuel header tank which feeds the engine. Early on in the
project, there were huge obstacles to overcome caused by siting the
engine so close to the pilot concerning noise levels. Quite
frankly,... it was too loud! Fortunately that's been overcome
now. Steve will also be sitting in a pressurised cabin because of
the altitude he will be flying at, which will give him a 'cabin
altitude' of 10,000 feet at the 45,000 feet he'll actually be flying
The cockpit itself
is a mere 7 feet long. It is equipped with a reclining carbon fibre
seat. However, to get a good enough view for take off and landing,
Steve will need to sit on cushions as the seat isn't high enough.
There are thirteen
fuel tanks all in all, and on take-off, it is expected that this
aircraft will be 83% fuel by weight. Which must be a world record
surely? Getting fuel to where it's needed whilst maintaining the
balance and stability of the aircraft is a feat that will require
constant supervision and monitoring. The fuel itself will be a
special fuel that has a much lower freezing point that regular
Wing Span: 114ft
Wing Area: 400ft
Gross Weight: 22,000 lbs
Empty Weight: 3,350 lbs