US aviator eyes new round the world flight record

United States aviator Steve Fossett, who last year made the first solo non-stop trip around the world in an airplane, was making final preparation early on Tuesday for another adventure, during which he plans to set a new record for the longest aircraft flight.

Fossett will take command again of the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer to circumnavigate the globe one more time, this time hoping to finish hundreds of kilometres further than anyone else.

He plans to travel for 41 978km after taking off from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 6.42am (12.42pm GMT) and begin a trip that is expected to last 80 hours.

The weather at Cape Canaveral was forecast early on Tuesday to be marginal, but satisfactory for launch, organisers said. If Fossett can’t fly on Tuesday, he will try again this week.

Last March, Fossett (61) landed in Kansas after he flew around the globe alone for 67 hours, two minutes and 38 seconds without stopping and refueling in a trip across 36 989km.

His newest adventure would take him 1 126km further than the 1999 around-the-world balloon trip by Brian Jones, a Briton, and his Swiss partner Bertand Piccard on Breitling Orbiter III.

It will also beat the distance set by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in their nine-day, non-stop trip without refueling around the world aboard the Voyager aircraft in 1986. That trip totaled 40 212km.

The thrill-seeking Fossett, who has set records in sailboats, gliders and hot-air balloons, said his next feat “will take me to the very edge of my ability and endurance”.

“This might seem a bit crazy but I’ve been called crazy before!” the aviator added.
“Everyone who has attempted to set or break world records will know that if it isn’t a true test and challenge there’s no point in taking it on.”

After gliding around the globe, Fossett plans to arrive from the west, fly past Cape Canaveral and go over the Atlantic a second time before landing at Kent International Airport in Britain, near London.

His route will vary according to the wind, but Fossett plans to fly over central Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, China and southeastern Japan before going over the Pacific and reaching Mexico.

The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer was designed by aviation legend Burt Rutan, creator of SpaceShipOne, the first private manned rocketship to go into space in 2004. Rutan also designed the Voyager flown by his brother Dick in 1986.

GlobalFlyer is 13,4m long and has a wing span of 34,7m. In this week’s flight, it will carry eight tonnes of fuel and weigh a total of 9 98 tonnes.

Fossett will fly at an altitude of 13 700m at a cruising speed of 470kph in a trip funded by British billionaire Richard Branson, himself a renowned thrill seeker.

To prepare for the long flight, Fossett has been on a diet that includes eggs to limit his bathroom needs. He will consume energy drinks during his three-and-a-half-day trip.

Fossett will take several five-minute naps during the flight. The cockpit is equipped with an alert system to rouse the pilot if he falls asleep. - AFP

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