One pilot, one jet engine, one load of fuel

 - January 30, 2007, 10:25 AM

After a few weather-related postponements, Steve Fossett took off in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer at 6:47 p.m. CST on February 28 and returned to the same runway in Salina, Kan., 67 hours 1 minute later (at 1:48 p.m. on March 3), having got there the long way without refueling. Takeoff weight for the flight was about 22,100 pounds, of which a staggering 83 percent was jet fuel to feed the single 2,300-pound-thrust Williams FJ44 turbofan. After an 8,000-foot takeoff roll, GlobalFlyer climbed away from Salina at 800 fpm. Fossett told AIN he was “pleasantly surprised” by handling qualities that designer Burt Rutan’s team had predicted could be extremely challenging at max weight. Over the next 2.8 days he caught naps of between one and five minutes (for a total of about one hour’s shuteye), trusting in a wakeup-call alert system triggered by any excursions from cruise. No stranger to lonesome globe-girdling (he had already ballooned around the world solo), Fossett said that nav and other piloting tasks kept him plenty busy. Financed by Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, GlobalFlyer’s success was five years in the making.