Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Ultimate Flight

I have been following the dramatic flight of the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, Steve Fossett's attempt to break the record for longest flight without refueling. The previous record was set in 1986 with the Voyager piloted by 2 pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. Rutan and Yeager completed their journey landing at Edwards Air Force Base on December 23, 1986. Their 24,986-mile trip had taken 9 days or a little more than 216 hours. I remember the landing being broadcast on either WHYY or KYW radio in Philadelphia, where I was living at the time. It was a remarkable achievement, doubling the previous record of 12,000 some miles in a B-52.

Fossett, who holds just about every aviation record imaginable, traveled 26,389 miles and had a flight duration of 76 hours 45 minutes. Around the world in 80 hours, instead of 80 days.

The Global Flyer's flight was eventful. A fuel leak caused over 750gal of fuel to be lost on takeoff, thus making the margin of error razor thin. Poor winds made several course adjustments necessary. Just short of the designated landing site at Kent International Airport, Manston UK, the Global Flyer's generator failed. Fossett was forced to declare an emergency and diverted to Bournemouth Airport.

I was watching the real time flight tracker and noticed he had suddenly shifted course to the south. With no other update other than the flight tracker, I along with many I suppose, were bewildered by the change. Maybe a circle to better descend, as he had been flying at over 51,000 ft., maybe a crash?? No, he was still moving. It then appeared he was landing at Bournemouth. I figured fuel was an issue. Not until everyone was on the ground did they update on the emergency and the diversion.

Still an incredible achievement. He could have landed in Ireland and still broken the record.


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