GlobalFlyer glides to victory

Experimental plane completes circumnavigation despite fuel loss.

Around the world in 67 hours: Steve Fossett has romped into the record books. Credit: © Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer

Pilot Steve Fossett slipped into the record books again on Thursday, when he successfully landed the round-the-world jet aircraft GlobalFlyer.

Fossett touched down at an airport in Salina, Kansas, at 19:50 GMT on 3 March. He had completed a non-stop, non-refuelled loop around the globe that took just over 67 hours and was a feat of physical endurance in staying awake.

The flight had a nail-biting second half after the control team discovered that 14% of the plane's fuel seemed to have gone missing during the first few hours of flight. It became clear that GlobalFlyer would only be able to complete the journey with a boost from favourable tailwinds, forcing Fossett to consider abandoning the attempt.

“It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Steve Fossett , GlobalFlyer pilot”

But those winds prevailed, and the aircraft completed the journey in less than the anticipated 80-hour flight time. Fossett emerged triumphantly from the plane, only to be showered with champagne by Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Atlantic airline that sponsored the flight.

Although extremely tired, and according to Branson "stinking to high heaven", Fossett was clearly elated. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done," he said. "But I really do feel great."

The record trumps one set in 1986 by two pilots in the propeller-driven plane Voyager, who completed the journey in nine days. In order to travel faster, GlobalFlyer was driven by a jet engine, built from ultralight materials and designed to carry at least four times its own weight in fuel.

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Pearson, H. GlobalFlyer glides to victory. Nature (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/news050228-15

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