|Steve Fossett: Always Scouting For New Adventures||Oct '07|
|By Di Freeze|
It's a beautiful day in Beaver Creek, Colo., and, for once, Steve Fossett isn't making history. On this day, he's relaxing in his spacious, contemporary Colorado home in Beaver Creek, talking about his colorful past. As he delves into the past, he reveals that "diversity" is the most interesting aspect of his adventure sports history. He counts off five sporting categories in which he's set world records: sailboats, powered aircraft, balloons, airships and gliders.
|Photo By Jeff Mattoon|
|At his home in Beaver Creek, Colo., Steve Fossett recently discussed his many achievements, including his five world record nonstop circumnavigations of the Earth: as a long-distance solo balloonist, a sailor and a solo airplane pilot.|
"Most people get a world record in one sport," he said. "In aviation, for instance, there are absolute world records in the various classes of aircraft. No one had ever held an absolute world record in more than one class of aircraft. I do now, in four classes of aircraft."
Fossett has made five world record nonstop circumnavigations of the Earth: as a long-distance solo balloonist, a sailor and a solo airplane pilot. He's set 88 aviation world records ratified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, plus 23 sailing world records ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.
Fossett details his many adventures in his new book, "Chasing the Wind: The Autobiography of Steve Fossett," released in 2006 by Virgin Publishing. Although he carefully chose the name for his autobiography and said he's definitely been able to "play off the wind," Fossett added that not "all" of his adventure goals have been related to the wind.
"There's a transfer of knowledge from one sport to another," he said. "I've learned to work with meteorologists very well. I know the right questions to ask, I understand the charts they're showing me and I can make the right decisions, with their advice. That mode of operation has brought me success in multiple sports. If I had to go to college again, I'd major in meteorology."
These days, Fossett divides his time between Beaver Creek and Carmel, Calif. His life started out in Tennessee, however. He was born in Jackson, on April 22, 1944, but grew up in Garden Grove, Calif. His father, an Eagle Scout, encouraged his son's adventurous nature when he introduced him to Boy Scouts.
"He made sure I joined the very first day I could, when I turned 11 years old," Fossett said. "That was the most significant activity in my youth."
Fossett earned his Eagle Scout badge in 1957.
"I'm still very involved," he said. "I'm on the national board and also the international board, the World Scout Committee."
Mountain climbing was his first sport; the first mountain he conquered was San Jacinto, the third highest mountain in the state.
"I climbed my first mountain when I was 12 years old, and continued on," Fossett said. "Over the years, I climbed in expeditions to various places in the world."
|Photo By Chuck Weirauch|
|Steve Fossett has set official world records in five different sporting categories: sailboats, gliders, balloons, powered aircraft and airships.|
When Fossett began attending Stanford University, he hadn't decided what he was going to do with his life.
"In those days, a lot of people aspired to get into politics. I was the president of various clubs and student body officer. I was involved in various leadership positions. Back in those days, I think I might even have been a good speaker," he laughed. "But I recognized that wasn't a logical pursuit for me."
After graduating from Stanford in 1966 with a BA, Fossett went to the School of Business, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. He graduated in 1968 with an MBA.
"For the first five years of my business career, I was distracted by being in computer systems; then I became interested in financial markets," Fossett said. "That's where I thrived."
While in computer systems, Fossett started with IBM, and then worked for Marshall Fields. In between, he worked for Deloitte Touche as a consultant.
He began dabbling in finance and in 1980, built a trading firm based, Lakota Trading Inc., in Chicago.
"I was on the floor of the exchanges for 15 years," he said. "Five years later, I started hiring people to build the company. We were on exchanges throughout the United States and one time, even London."
Fossett was highly successful as a floor trader.
"It was a natural for me," he said. "I'm a very competitive and methodical person. Those two aspects are key to being successful in financial trading."
More mountains and swimming the English Channel
In the half-dozen or so years after graduating, Fossett had little time for sports. But he began missing the "interesting things" he had done in high school and college.
"There was a period where I wasn't doing anything except working for a living," he said. "I became frustrated with that and finally made up my mind to start getting back into things. I resumed mountain climbing, ran marathons and did cross-country ski races—distance races—and car racing."
A friendship led him to climbing some important mountains in the early 1980s.
"Pat Morrow was trying to be the first person to climb the Seven Summits," he said. "He did it, back in 1985. I climbed the last three mountains with him."
|Photo By Mark Greenberg|
|Steve Fossett had PlayStation (later renamed Cheyenne) built to attack the major sailing records. He twice set the prestigious 24 Hour Record of Sailing and set a transatlantic record with the large catamaran.|
With Morrow, he climbed Vinson in Antarctica, Carstenz in Australasia and Elbruz in Europe. Fossett eventually climbed six of the summits. One mountain Fossett didn't conquer was Everest. He withdrew from climbing the mountain in 1992, due to problems was asthma.
Fossett said people take up mountain climbing for the same reason others might begin scuba diving.
"They get to go to great locations; it's a good excuse to travel," he laughed. "Mountain climbing also takes us to very interesting parts of the world. I did two expeditions to Antarctica, Greenland, all the continents. That was fascinating."
Fossett's first major sports project was swimming the English Channel, in September 1985, from France to England.
"It was the first time I planned a project; it involved figuring out how to do something and then training," he said. "That characterized my approach to other projects—a lot of planning and preparation. It wasn't easy for me, because I'm not a very good swimmer. I was never good enough to make the varsity swim team. But I found that you can just keep going in swimming; you can swim a long time. It took me four attempts over a period of five years before I finally succeeded."
For his first attempt, he trained for two months, swimming a mile every day.
"On subsequent attempts, I figured the system out, and I didn't have to train quite that much. Predictably, it was an extremely slow swim. I won the endurance trophy that year," he laughed. "That's awarded to the person that makes the year's slowest swim across the English Channel."
The 270th person to swim the English Channel, Fossett accomplished his crossing in 22 hr, 15 min.
"The success rate is quite low," he said. "It was only 10 percent back when I was doing it. I suspect nowadays, with all the good swimmers in the world, it's much higher."
The multimillionaire's financial success eventually gave him the flexibility to decide how much time he wanted to devote to business and how much to sports.
"At first, I'd do about six weeks a year on adventure sports, like climbing expeditions," he said. "Eventually, I decided I no longer wanted to maximize my business career. In 1990, I moved from Chicago to Beaver Creek, with the realization that I couldn't maximize my business career living here, but I could keep my company going."
Since moving to Beaver Creek, Fossett estimates he's spent half of his time on adventure sports and the other half on his business, still headquartered in Chicago.
|Photo By Henri Thibault|
|As the skipper of Cheyenne, Steve Fossett set the world record for fastest circumnavigation around the world in 2004. The official start/finish line of the World Sailing Speed Record Council is at the French island of Ouessant.|
Iditarod, Le Mans and Ironman Triathlon
Fossett stayed active in climbing, but his next big adventure was competing in the 1992 Iditarod Dogsled Race, covering a course of 1,165 miles.
"That was perhaps the most fascinating thing I've ever done," he said. "It took me five years, from the time I started dog sledding until I finished the Iditarod. Going up to the Yukon and Alaska to train dogs was interesting in itself."
The idea surfaced while Fossett was at a British base in Antarctica.
"They had dog teams back then, and we started talking about it," he recalled. "One of the guys on the climbing expedition said, 'I know somebody who just won one of the major races. Maybe he'll teach you how to do it.' I was introduced, went up to the Yukon and started learning the sport."
Fossett finished 47th out of 76 starters.
"I was delighted to finish," he said. "I never did another dog-sled race after that. If you want to be competitive in the top 10 positions, you need to devote your life to that—live up there and have your own kennel of race dogs. That wasn't what I wanted. I wanted the experience of finishing the race."
In the mid-1970s, Fossett had been involved in various forms of race car driving. He started driving again in the early 1990s. That eventually led to driving the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1993 and 1996.
|Steve Fossett began his 2004 round-the-world voyage on Feb. 7 and completed it on April 5. His time—58 days, 9 hr, 32 min, 45 sec—broke the previous record by nearly six days.|
"I finally concluded that I'd do best at endurance style racing. I can be very consistent; maybe I can't be quite as quick as the professional drivers, but in endurance racing, the object is to not lose the car, spin out the car or crash the car," he laughed. "I found that the top professional drivers made more mistakes than I did, so I felt that was an equalizing factor—that I actually had a chance to compete against the top drivers in an endurance race, where I couldn't compete with them in a short race."
He didn't win, but he proved his theory in other ways.
"I didn't have any really high placings," he said. "I took a fourth place at Sebring, once. But I enjoyed it. Also, normally you have three drivers per car, and you trade off; drivers might drive one hour at Le Mans, for instance. Once I drove for four and a half hours. They didn't call me in to pit because, rather than deteriorating from being tired, which is what you'd normally experience, I'd improve. I was getting more in the groove and wasn't getting tired."
He said that in all of the early sports activities, he played off the concept of endurance.
|Photo By Henri Thibault|
|Steve Fossett and a crew of 12 sailed around the world on Cheyenne, achieving the most important record in sailing.|
"People can do endurance events with just the necessary preparation and training," he laughed.
Fossett has run several marathons, including major races in Boston and New York and the Leadville 100 in Colorado. Since he also enjoys cycling and "can get through the swimming," another goal was to enter a triathlon. He competed in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii in 1996.
"I managed to get an invitation to go in the Ironman, which is an experience in itself," he said. "There are 1,500 people in the race, and it's a whole culture of people who love to work out, and they spend their lives doing that."
His Colorado home provided the setting for two cross-country skiing records. He set an Aspen to Vail record (59 hr, 53 min, 30 sec) in February 1998 and an Aspen to Eagle record (12 hr, 29 min) in February 2001.
After moving to Beaver Creek, Fossett decided he particularly wanted to do two things.
"One was to sail a boat across the Atlantic, single-handed, and the other was to fly a balloon around the world," he said. "I started from scratch on those two projects in the early '90s."
Fossett would eventually set 21 outright sailing world records. He learned how to sail when he was still in his twenties, but his first sailboat race wasn't until July 1993.
"It was a two-handed race around Britain and Ireland," he said. "It was a 2,000-mile race, and we won it."
He set his first world record in September 1993, sailing around Ireland. The record stands at 44 hr, 42 min.
Fossett set three single-handed records: the Pacific Ocean world record, Yokohama, Japan, to San Francisco (20 days, 9 hr, 52 min), Aug. 5-24, 1996; Newport, R.I., to Bermuda world record (40 hr, 51 min, 54 sec), June 1999; and Transpac, San Francisco to Hawaii (7 days, 22 hr, 38 min), June 27-July 5, 1999.
He also established nine sailing distance race records. He accomplished his goal of sailing a boat solo across the Atlantic when he competed in single-handed sailing's most important race, the Route de Rhum, Nov. 6-10, 1994. He placed fifth overall.
"I competed mainly against the great French single-handed sailors," he said. "I didn't win that race, but it surprised the professional sailors that I could do that well."
In a race from Newport to Ensenada, Mexico, in April 1998, he established the world's fastest yacht race record: 6 hr, 46 min, 40 sec, at 18.45 knots.
|Fossett made five solo round-the-world attempts between 1996 and 2001, before accomplishing his goal of setting the absolute RTW speed record. He made his first attempt in the Solo Challenger and his second through fifth attempts in Solo Spirit (shown).|
After owning two sailboats, Fossett had a large catamaran built for the purpose of attacking the major sailing records. PlayStation (later renamed Cheyenne), designed by famed multi-hull architects Gino Morrelli and Pete Melvin, was launched in 1998. The catamaran was constructed entirely out of carbon fiber.
With PlayStation, Fossett twice set the prestigious 24 Hour Record of Sailing, 580 miles in March 1999 and 687 miles in October 2001. He set a transatlantic record (4 days, 17 hr, 28 min, 6 sec), Oct. 5-10, 2001, at 25.78 knots, from New York to England. That record was one of his best, and stood until July 2006.
Fossett and a crew of 12 sailed around the world on Cheyenne from Feb. 7 through April 5, 2004. The voyage set the world record for fastest circumnavigation around the world (58 days, 9 hr, 32 min, 45 sec), breaking the previous record by nearly six days.
Fossett retired from sailing in 2004.
"It was a very successful program," he said. "I broke most of the important world records. In a couple of cases, my records were broken, and I went back and re-broke them. But then, I finally decided, 'I'm not going to make a career out of defending my records.' After getting the biggest record, the around-the-world record, I considered my sailing career complete."
Fossett estimates that about half of his 23 records still stand.
"They're getting broken one at a time," he said.
Before becoming seriously involved in ballooning, Fossett first had to find the most reliable long distance balloon with the most proven equipment. He chose a Cameron (77,000 cubic feet), a design used for the 1992 Transatlantic Balloon Race. One problem he had to overcome was that balloons at that time had no working autopilot.
"You had to have it to fly solo," he said. "One of my team members, Bruce Comstock, developed the first workable balloon autopilot. Once he had done that, then it became possible."
Fossett's first major balloon adventure was a transatlantic flight from St. John's, Canada, to Hamburg, Germany, made Aug. 18-21, 1994. Tim Cole was his copilot.
"Then I decided I might know enough to fly solo," he said.
|Courtesy Steve Fossett|
|After five previous attempts, Steve Fossett successfully completed the first round-the-world solo balloon flight in 2002. He left Northam, Australia, on June 19, and landed in Queensland, Australia, on July 4.|
The following year, he made the first solo balloon flight across the Pacific, beginning in Seoul, Korea, on Feb. 17, 1995, and landing in Mendham, Saskatchewan, Canada, on Feb. 21. On that flight, he set an absolute world distance record of 5,435.82 miles.
Out of all of the records Fossett has set, he believes the first solo round-the-world balloon flight is still the most important.
"It was a grandiose project," he said. "It took seven years. We not only had to fly it, but we also had to develop the technology to fly at great durations and distances."
Although other balloonists had their eyes set on the same goal, initially Fossett was the only one who planned to go solo.
"In aviation, there's something about solo flights that carries more significance than crewed flights," he said. "Alcock and Brown (Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Whitten Brown) made the first transatlantic flight in 1919, yet we don't hear much about them. But, eight years later, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight, and it was highly significant. This pattern has repeated itself in the history of aviation."
Fossett thought he was the right person to do a solo flight.
"I knew how to do all the functions on the balloon, including navigation, and I was used to the endurance aspects of living in high-altitude environments, over 20,000 feet, for a couple of weeks at a time, because of my mountain climbing experience," he said.
He also had practical reasons for wanting to go solo.
"Flying solo makes the equipment much lighter," he said. "You're supporting the weight of only one person and personal supplies. I thought that was significant."
Fossett had another big reason to go solo.
"Being a newcomer to the sport, I didn't want to be perceived as 'the rich guy flying with an expert,'" he said. "I wanted to be perceived as a balloonist myself, capable of doing it."
Between 1996 and 2001, Fossett would make five solo round-the-world attempts before achieving his goal, with an absolute RTW speed record.
"When I was first flying balloons, the distance record was 5,200 statute miles. I had to fly 22,000 miles to get around the world, and the longest duration anybody had flown a balloon was six days," he said.
It was thought that flying around the world would take about 24 days.
"In order to fly around the world, we had to more than quadruple the capabilities of what had ever been done before," Fossett said. "A lot of equipment development needed to take place, by myself and my competitors. We sometimes benefited from each other's technological development."
|Courtesy Steve Fossett|
|Steve Fossett is one of only 17 Zeppelin captains in the world. In October 2004, he set an absolute world speed record for airships of 71.5 mph, in a Zeppelin NT. His copilot was Hans-Paul Stroehle (right).|
For his first solo RTW attempt, Fossett and the Solo Challenger departed Stratobowl, S.D., on Jan. 8, 1996. He landed at St. John, Canada, approximately 2,200 miles, on Jan. 11.
His second through fifth attempts were made in Solo Spirit. On his second attempt, he departed St. Louis on Jan. 13, 1997. He landed at Sultanpur, India, Jan. 20, setting an absolute world distance record of 10,360.61 miles, as well as an absolute world duration record of 6 days, 2 hr, 44 min.
On his third attempt, Fossett again departed St. Louis, on Jan. 1, 1998, but this time traveled 5,802.94 miles to Grechanaya, Russia. Each attempt resulted in improvements for Fossett and his team.
"Then, once again, I'd be surprised to find out that we didn't have it all together yet," he said.
By 1998, the ballooning world knew it had gotten to the point where it was possible to fly around the world. Fossett had decided to try a new strategy; he was going to fly in the Southern Hemisphere.
"I was becoming frustrated with the permission problems of the Northern Hemisphere," he said. "Some of these countries represent a bona fide danger. You ran the risk of being shot down if you flew over Libya without permission, for instance, or flew low enough over various countries, where surface-to-air missiles could reach you. Then, the jet stream goes directly through China. No one's ever gotten permission to fly the main jet stream core through that area."
He decided to take advantage of crossing only four politically-friendly countries—Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Chile.
"I believed that the jet streams, the wind patterns, would be smoother and more reliable, because you're crossing oceans," he said. "The downside of the Southern Hemisphere is you're over water most of the time, and you're off the main shipping routes. If you go down, your life would be at risk. If your balloon went down in more than half the Southern Hemisphere route, it wouldn't be possible to rescue you. In the Northern Hemisphere, you're within reach of rescue almost 100 percent of the time."
Fossett set off on Aug. 7, 1998, from Mendoza, Argentina, on his fourth attempt. Things were going well until Aug. 16, when a violent thunderstorm ended his flight. His balloon ruptured, and Fossett fell 29,000 feet into the Coral Sea, 500 miles east of Australia.
Fossett said that by cutting fuel tanks loose 1,000 feet above the water, he was able to soften the impact. He was unhurt in the landing, but the capsule quickly caught fire, capsized and submerged. With his emergency beacon and life raft, he dove through the hatch into the ocean and floated until a rescue plane from New Caledonia spotted him the next morning. The Australian schooner Atlanta picked him up 24 hours after the crash.
"I was having the most success in the distance flights for five consecutive years; I made the longest flight in the world," he said. "I felt I was the leader in the competition. But I lost all my equipment when I went down in that storm."
|Photo By Di Freeze|
|GlobalFlyer designer Burt Rutan (left) and pilot Steve Fossett visit before a media briefing at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005.|
The 14,235.33-mile flight resulted in an absolute world distance record. In December 1998, Fossett took a break from his attempt to make a solo RTW balloon flight and joined Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand in their ICO Global Challenger attempt.
"I didn't have time to rebuild a set of equipment and Richard had wanted to get me on his team. We made a very nice flight, more than halfway around the world, from Marrakech, Morocco to Honolulu—or near, just offshore," he laughed.
That 12,403.07-mile flight began Dec. 16 and ended Dec. 25. A few months later, the race to fly a balloon nonstop around the world was over. On March 1, 1999, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones set off in the Breitling Orbiter 3 from Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland. They landed in Egypt 19 days, 21 hr, 47 min later, after traveling 25,361 miles, 477.47 hours aloft.
Fossett wouldn't be the first to fly a balloon around the world, but it still intrigued him to make the first solo flight. Not wanting to be perceived as making the "second" flight around the world, he decided to wait until 2001. His fifth solo RTW attempt began in Northam, Australia, August 5, and ended Aug. 17 at Bagé, Brazil. The duration of 12 days, 12 hr, 57 min, set a new solo flight record.
Fossett began his sixth and final attempt on June 19, 2002, from Northam, flying the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom. At one point, he had to hand-fly the balloon at less than 500 feet, in order to avoid high winds at altitude. He had a few other tense moments, but on July 4, 2002, he landed in Queensland, Australia, successfully completing the first RTW solo balloon flight. The time on the 20,626.48-mile flight was 13 days, 8 hr, 33 min (14 days, 19 hr, 50 min until landing). A 3,186.80-mile portion of the flight, from June 30–July 1, also established a 24-hour record for speed.
Flying the Zeppelin
Fossett is one of only 17 Zeppelin captains in the world. He received his license to fly the Zeppelin in Germany.
"I had to get a German pilot's license and basically a type rating in the Zeppelin," he explained. "In order to set a record, you can't be a student pilot; you have to be a qualified pilot in command."
In October 2004, Fossett set an absolute world speed record for airships of 71.5 mph in a Zeppelin NT.
Fixed wing records
Fossett got his fixed wing private pilot's license in 1967. After flying a Falcon 10, he moved up to a Cessna Citation 10, in which the jet pilot has set transcontinental, Australian transcontinental and round-the-world westbound non-supersonic records.
|Courtesy Steve Fossett|
|Steve Fossett achieved the first solo nonstop RTW speed record in the GlobalFlyer, in 2005. He made the 22,936-mile flight in 67 hr, 1 min, 10 sec.|
"The Australian transcontinental record is the fastest of any kind of aircraft to cross Australia," he said. "It's Perth to Brisbane. I did that while I was waiting for one of my balloon flight launches. We flew to Brisbane and back the same night to Perth. We waited a couple days, and when the balloon weather still wasn't any good, we did a Perth to Hobart, Tasmania."
He made the trip from Perth to Brisbane July 28, 2001, at 705.06 mph, to set the unlimited Australia transcontinental record; the flight from Perth to Hobart set the fastest unlimited world record by a non-supersonic airplane, at 742.02 mph, July 30, 2001.
Fossett said success was due to good weather forecasting, as well as running the Citation 10 right on its maximum speed.
"With the Citation 10, while flying low—41,000 feet—you can fly at .92 mach," he said.
Fossett established several U.S. transcontinental records. On Sept. 17, 2000, he set an east to west non-supersonic record from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Diego, at 591.96 mph (3 hr, 29 min, 35 sec). On Feb. 5, 2003, flying from San Diego to Charleston, S.C., he set a west to east non-supersonic record, at 726.83 mph (2 hr, 56 min, 20 sec).
"The SR-71 holds the absolute record," he said. "Two hours and 56 minutes is still a pretty good time though, across the United States. The fastest anybody had done it before was three hours and 32 minutes, a couple of years earlier."
Fossett set round-the-world records in the H-Class (medium airplanes) as well. He set an eastbound record on Feb. 16, 2000 (559.89 mph) and a westbound record on Nov. 24, 2000 (500.56 mph).
Other airplane world records include LA-Honolulu (unlimited), 4 hr, 11 min, 5 sec, 609.84 mph, March 23, 2000; 200 km speed record (H-Class), 598.26 mph, Nov. 26, 1999; 5000 km speed record (H-Class), 572.29 mph, July 14, 2000; Goose Bay-Berlin (unlimited), transatlantic record/non supersonic airplanes, 649.93 mph, Oct. 8, 2003.
Looking back at his accomplishments, Fossett laughed and said he's missed a few chances. After Piccard and Jones made their historic flight, conversation at dinner at Barron Hilton's Flying M Ranch in southern Nevada one night turned to serious thought. The main subject: "What's the most important thing that hasn't yet been done in aviation?"
|Courtesy Steve Fossett|
|On Feb. 11, 2006, Steve Fossett broke the airplane nonstop global flight distance record of 24,986 miles, set by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in December 1986 aboard Voyager.|
"Dick Rutan, who did the first two-person nonstop flight around the world, believed it was now possible to do a solo nonstop RTW flight," Fossett recalled. "He said his brother had a preliminary design concept, so I asked Dick to introduce me. I met Burt at Oshkosh in 1999."
Although Fossett had his mind on the "last great aviation record," once they began talking, Burt Rutan, who heads Scaled Composites, had two proposals for Fossett.
"One was the solo airplane. He told me, 'But what you really ought to do is the first private spaceship.' He thought that was the most important thing to do. He estimated it would cost $2 million to do the solo around-the-world airplane, but it would cost $7 million to do the private spaceship. Thinking back on that, I should have done them both!" Fossett exclaimed. "Paul Allen took the spaceship, and it was a huge success. But I'm a pilot, and the reason I wanted to do the GlobalFlyer project was to fly it, not to own it."
On Oct. 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne secured the $10 million Ansari X Prize when it rocketed into history, becoming the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet, twice within the span of a 14-day period. Although Mike Melvill was at the helm that day, Fossett does have a close association with the project. He became one of the owners of Scaled Composites in the project's early stages.
Fossett said that the GlobalFlyer project, eventually sponsored by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic, was slow to get started. Although Rutan knew how to design the airplane, they needed a fuel efficient jet engine and an autopilot.
"We considered a fuel-efficient military jet engine that was developed as a result of the oil crisis in the 1970s," he said. "But it was in a box. We were nervous about being able to support a jet engine no longer being flown."
Dr. Sam Williams, of Williams International, offered a production jet engine.
"It's currently being put on airplanes like the Raytheon Premier One," he said.
Their last hurdle was to find the right autopilot.
"We wanted a digital autopilot," he said. "Only a couple of companies were making them. One of them wouldn't quote on it; the other one was TruTrack in Arkansas. We flew out there the day after Christmas in 2000. They had the right autopilot that could be modified for this purpose. That's when I pushed the 'go button.' I think it was a year before we actually started building."
Although Burt Rutan came up with the concept, Fossett said the most significant person in the development of the GlobalFlyer was Scaled Composites' John Karkow.
|GlobalFlyer sponsor Sir Richard Branson (right) helps Steve Fossett display a model of the record-breaking aircraft.|
"He designed and managed the building of the plane and was the test pilot," he said. "After it was built and a number of test flights had been done, I started doing test flights too."
With wings stretching 114 feet, the trimaran-shaped body of the GlobalFlyer spans only 44 feet. It weighs only 3,460 pounds, due to exclusive use of graphite/epoxy materials, and requires only a single jet engine (Williams FJ44) to power it to a cruising altitude of 51,000 feet, at speeds in excess of 285 mph. Learning to fly the GlobalFlyer was an experience.
"Obviously, the first time you get to fly it is solo," he said of the single-passenger craft. "I worried about how to prepare. I finally concluded the best we could do is figure out what the speeds and the glide path would be in the GlobalFlyer, and, based on the engineering, how it would fly. Then, we'd use those same parameters in Mike Melvill's Long-Eze. I flew with Mike, practiced the glide slope and the speeds and got that down. That same day, I got out, got in the GlobalFlyer and flew it."
Speeds had been calculated correctly, and he quickly realized that the GlobalFlyer handled well and landed easily.
"You don't want any surprises when you're in flight," he said. "I felt very secure in the GlobalFlyer."
Fossett confirmed that the GlobalFlyer is more like a glider than a powered airplane.
"But then you add on characteristics of a jet engine, so my experience flying Citations was also relevant in understanding the plane," he said.
Rutan and others at Scaled Composites leaned toward Fossett flying from Edwards Air Force Base in California.
"I wanted to fly from the middle of the U.S.," Fossett said. "If I started at Edwards and flew eastbound around the world, I'd risk running out of fuel after passing over Hawaii, ending up in the water, and losing the plane. If I were to run out of fuel over the continental area of the U.S., the airplane has a 32-to-one glide ratio—similar to a standard performance glider—so I could fly more than 300 miles without an engine and basically land anywhere."
Fossett reasoned that starting in the middle of the U.S. gave him time to ensure the airplane was working correctly before he got out over the Atlantic.
"It also would give me the final 1,500 miles over land on the finish," he said. "My first idea was Salina, Kansas, because it has a long runway. I brought the idea up to the airport manager, Tim Rogers. He made sure I got everything I wanted—from the city, the chamber of commerce and Kansas State. Its aviation school is at Salina Municipal Airport. They immediately got the students involved."
|Photo By Dane Penland, Smithsonian Institute|
|After the arrival of the record-setting airplane at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, May 23, 2006, Steve Fossett (fifth from left), poses with J.R. “Jack” Dailey, NASM director (fourth from left), museum staff and GlobalFlyer’s ground crew.|
Four professional pilot students joined in flight planning, and seven of the A&P maintenance students helped in the maintenance and preparation of the aircraft.
"Everybody loved it," Fossett said. "I got all the help I wanted and a huge hangar. By happy coincidence, they had planned to repave the runway just in advance of my flight."
Planned for January 2005, the flight was delayed more than a month due to turbulence.
"I want the good winds, but when the jet stream is overhead, it will often create turbulence, especially if there's a curve in the jet stream," he explained. "The GlobalFlyer is vulnerable to turbulence; when it's fully loaded, it's considered to be good only for two Gs. I waited until I could fly away from the jet stream in calm air, during my climb, and then rejoin the jet stream, after I burned off a little bit of fuel and got to higher altitude, where the turbulence is less. I eventually flew north of the jet stream, up to Newfoundland, Canada, and then south to join the jet stream."
With 30 hours in the experimental aircraft, Fossett took off on Feb. 28, 2005, just after sunset. Several hours into his flight, he experienced an intermittent GPS failure for a two-hour period over Canada, but the GPS finally reengaged. On March 2, as the GlobalFlyer passed over China, and just as Fossett was ready to embark upon the most dangerous part of the route—the Paci
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