Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer

touchdown at
Salina, Kansas

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 all. 

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."

Despite admitting 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 milkshakes.

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 now."

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 high heaven." 

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."

Richard also 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 Pacific Ocean.
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 a job".

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.

Scaled Composite's '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 from.

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 at.

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 aviation fuel.

Wing Span:  114ft
Wing Area:   400ft squared
Length: 44.1ft
Height: 13.3ft
Gross Weight: 22,000 lbs
Empty Weight: 3,350 lbs