Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett hopes to set the “last great aviation record” by piloting an airplane alone around the world without refueling or stopping.
Originally scheduled to launch on February 2, unsatisfactory weather has prompted mission planners to delay the flight several times.
Next Wednesday or Thursday, weather permitting, the 60-year-old retired investor plans to board the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer in Salina, Kansas, and begin his journey toward Europe and the Middle East, over Asia and the Pacific, and back to Kansas.
He’s already proved himself to be a modern-day Magellan. In 2002, Fossett became the first solo balloonist to circle the globe nonstop, despite an on-board fire and dangerous winds. Two years later, he and his crew made the fastest circumnavigation on a sailing ship — 58 days.
Fossett holds dozens of aviation and nautical records, including the fastest flight of a nonsupersonic airplane — 742.02 mph (1,193.9 kph).
On the water, he and his crew in 2001 smashed the transatlantic sailing record by 43 hours, finishing in a little more than four days.
For this latest challenge, Fossett and his mission control team at Kansas State University face a tricky triple threat: weather, sleep deprivation and conserving precious fuel.
The GlobalFlyer consists of three hulls attached to a 114-foot (35-meter) wing that measures more than half the wingspan of a Boeing 747. Twin “boom” hulls on either side of the cockpit hull each carry almost 5,500 pounds of fuel. The plane is expected to reach heights of 52,000 feet (17,000 meters) and travel at speeds in excess of 250 knots (285 mph, 440 kph).
Atop the plane’s 7-foot cockpit is a single jet engine, which must propel the aircraft throughout its 25,000-mile trek.