Thursday, February 09, 2006


Adventurer Steve Fossett set out from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on his quest to break the record for the world's longest aircraft flight in his Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer. The takeoff on the runway normally used by space shuttles when they return to Earth was free of technical problems, but the plane struck two seabirds. "Takeoff was a bit scary to say the least," said Fossett, 61, who's goal is to complete a nearly 27,000-mile trip once around the world and then across the Atlantic again, with a landing Saturday outside London. The 80-hour voyage would break the airplane distance record of 24,987 miles set in 1986 by the lightweight Voyager aircraft piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager.

UPDATE: February 12, 2006 --- MANSTON, England — Fighting through sleep deprivation, severe turbulence and a last-gasp emergency landing, Steve Fossett broke the record for the longest nonstop flight in aviation history.

The 61-year-old adventurer piloted his lightweight experimental plane, Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, to set a record of 26,389 miles in about 76 hours despite a complete electronic failure that threatened to turn his return into a nightmare.

Fossett began emergency landing procedures when a generator light started to flash upon his descent.

The mechanical crisis forced him to land Saturday at Bournemouth International Airport in southern England, instead of at his planned landing point in nearby Kent, where hundreds of well-wishers were gathered.

"He burst two tires on landing, and the poor GlobalFlyer had to be dragged off the runway," said Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, the company sponsoring Fossett's record bid.

Ground control confirmed that Fossett had broken the distance record of 24,987 miles as his plane flew over Shannon, Ireland, after crossing the Atlantic, his ground team said.

That eclipsed the 1986 record set by the Voyager aircraft, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. It also beat the balloon record of 25,361 miles set in 1999 by the Breitling Orbiter 3.

Fossett arrived at Kent International Airport on a private jet alongside Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic owner. Fossett was greeted by his wife, Peggy, and applause.

He spoke from the tarmac of his delight and relief at completing the flight.

Fossett said he realized he was in trouble when he began his descent for Kent and a light came on indicating the plane's generator had failed.

"I was really lucky to make it here today; there was a lot going on. The tension of the final part really took it out of me, but I will be fine in the morning," he told reporters.

The finale was one of several episodes that nearly doomed his 3 1/2 -day voyage.

During takeoff Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, his plane lost about 750 pounds of fuel in a leak — and he nearly ran out of runway.

"I had to pull up with all my might" to get the plane in the air before the end of the airstrip, he said.

Severe turbulence over India "almost broke the plane apart," he said, forcing him to strap on a parachute.

After the news conference he was presented with the Guinness World Record for the longest flight in history.

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