A search-and-rescue effort is currently under way for world aviation record holder Steve Fossett, who was reported missing Monday night after he was last seen taking off from the Flying M Ranch near Smith Valley, Nev., in an American Champion Super Decathlon. The Civil Air Patrol has not yet found any signs of Fossett, though the search area covers hundreds of square miles of rugged terrain.
Known as the Model 311 Capricorn by its builder, and the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer by its pilot and sponsor, Burt Rutan’s latest creation took to the sky on March 5–the first step in its creators’ goal of seeing the single-jet, single-seat aircraft circle the globe nonstop on one load of fuel. With Scaled project engineer and test pilot Jon Karkow at the controls, the initial flight lasted 1 hour 30 minutes.
Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites recently modified the Virgin Atlantic-sponsored GlobalFlyer with fuel jettison capability at the request of pilot Steve Fossett, who is scheduled to fly the single-engine Williams FJ44-powered aircraft solo around the world nonstop without refueling sometime after January 4.
“LAST BIG PLUM” REVISITED–Burt Rutan and the Voyager team in 1986 described their quest to fly around the world nonstop and unrefueled as “the last big plum” in the orchard of aviation records. In 1999 Messrs. Piccard and Jones, similarly, characterized their ultimately successful circumnavigation of the world in the Breitling Orbiter balloon as “the last great aeronautical adventure.”
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.
Virgin Atlantic selected Salina, Kan., as its base and control center for a solo, nonstop, unrefueled around-the-world record attempt in a single-engine jet piloted by adventurer Steve Fossett. The approximately 80-hour flight in the Williams FJ44-3 powered GlobalFlyer is scheduled to take place early this month.
Steve Fossett saddled up the single-Williams-turbofan Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer once more and, after takeoff from the Kennedy Space Center’s 15,000-foot runway in Florida on February 8, flew for 76 hours 45 minutes before landing at Bournemouth Airport on the south coast of England–after a second crossing of the Atlantic, and after burning all but about 200 of the 18,000 pounds of jet fuel with which he had started.
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