March 7, 2005 Steve Fossett and the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer have achieved their aviation world record for their non-stop and non-refueled, around-the-world solo flight. After 67 hours and 1 minute of gruelling sleep deprivation and 12 unappealing diet milkshakes, Steve finally touched down in front of an excited crowd of public and press at Salina Municipal Airport at 19:48:56UTC on March 3, despite having some very worrying problems earlier in the flight.
At the start of the flight, Steve experienced intermittent failures with the Global Positioning System and then, as the flight continued, fuel readings indicated that the aircraft had lost a significant amount of fuel shortly after take-off. Both of these problems were serious threats to the flight's continuation. It was 'touch and go' at times, but Steve seemed to have luck on his side, with good tailwinds pushing him along across the last leg of the Pacific Ocean.
As Steve exited the cockpit and waved to the crowds, he managed to gingerly stand up and walk even though he, as expected, appeared to be weary and tired. His happiness at completing the attempt and getting back on the land to see his wife Peggy, however, was obvious and his smile said it all.
When asked how he was feeling, Steve remarked: "That was a difficult trip. I mean it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. To be on duty for three days and night with virtually no sleep." Steve added: "I was in control and I think I was able to make rational decisions and didn't make major errors, which is a great danger when you get this tired." He was very relieved and added, "It happened successfully and on the first attempt."
Despite admitting that he did not sleep at all in the first day and only had half a dozen naps for the rest of the time, Steve said: "I feel great. Well, yes I could do with a shower and I could do with a little sleep, but I really do feel great."
Steve added that he was looking forward to having a real dinner after all those milkshakes.
Of the crowds Steve said: "I do these things because I want to do them for my self esteem and my personal satisfaction, and this is the first time a big crowd has come out to support me on a project and in the records that I do. I think that's a really good sign that all these people share the enthusiasm and excitement for an airplane adventure."
Steve said the record was "the most important aviation record yet to be done, but it's not the last important record...I'm not ready to announce any new projects, but, in fact, I have three projects in planning right now."
Sir Richard Branson, who was there to congratulate Steve immediately on disembarking from the aircraft, gave him a high five and soaked him in champagne. Later Richard, who can now have his watch back, said: "I poured the champagne over him to try and cool him down a bit...he stinks to high heaven."
Of Steve's condition Richard added: "He is wide awake. I just asked him whether he might go back and have a sleep and he said "no I plan to party," so I suspect he'll still be going for another 24 hours."
Richard also maintained that Steve is just relieved to be alive and thought that Steve began to relax and enjoy the flight when he had crossed the Pacific Ocean. The entire Mission Control team was there on Steve's arrival. Jon Karkow, from Scaled Composites, thanked everyone involved in the project and said: "It's been a real team effort." And when Steve was reunited with Kevin Stass, Mission Control Director, all he needed to say to the man who has guided him throughout the flight was "what a job".
Although the flight has been recognised as the first solo trip around the world by Guinness World Records, it is still to be sanctioned by the National Aeronautique Association (NAA). When it is, it should be recognized as the fastest non-stop, non-refueled circumnavigation ever.
Only moments after Steve Fossett gave Sir Richard Branson back his beloved Breitling watch, Richard announced that he has decided to auction it on the website to raise money for our nominated charity ORBIS.
With an in-built Emergency Positioning Indicating Radiobeacon (EPIRB) it can send a rescue signal using Global Positioning System satellites, the watch that Richard gave Steve before he took off on historic world record attempt has almost been on as many adventures as Steve.
Of the watch's adventures, Richard said: "It's been the first watch to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon, and was also the first to cross the Pacific Ocean and has been over the Himalayas.
"Now it's the first watch to go around the world in a plane and is the only watch to go around the world in a plane on a solo flight," Richard added
So the watch, which would have cost around $10,000 new, has had quite an enviable history and has also had the daily pleasure of being on Richard's wrist.
Now that he will be left without a watch, Richard joked that he'll have to buy a new one and said: "I'll miss it a lot as it's my only watch." It was the only watch that Steve wore whilst flying around the globe in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer and he was glad he didn't have to use for any other reason than telling the time. "I didn't need your watch Richard and here it is back," Steve said as he handed it back to Richard.
Richard, with a smile, said the deadline for auction is April 1, which is of course April Fools' Day. That's only four weeks away, so if you want a chance of becoming its new owner get bidding now!
We are using eBay to handle the auction, and you can see full details of the watch, and how the auction is progressing when they are posted, by clicking this link.
An earlier Gizmag story on the flight can be found here.