In 2005, Steve Fossett smashed a number of world records by being the first, and fastest, to fly solo round the world, nonstop, without refuelling. Now he’s done it again in the same plane, breaking the record for the Longest Non Stop Flight, having traveled a total distance of 26,389.3 miles covered in 76 hours and 45 minutes. Ironically, the flight was cut short in its final hour when just miles from the planned final destination at Kent International Airport, the GlobalFlyer’s generator failed, which meant a total electrical breakdown. The breakdown resulted in Fossett being forced to make an emergency landing at Bournemouth Airport, and if he had not been given an emergency window of time in which to land, he was within 15 minutes of having to ditch the plane.
As things transpired, the landing burst two tyres, and when fuel reserves were checked, the plane weighed in at just 3550 lbs, meaning it had only 200lbs of fuel left. Though the GlobalFlyer was in no real danger of failing to reach the target through lack of fuel, consider this remarkable fact – when it took off for the journey, it weighed 22,000 lbs, meaning close to 85% of its gross weight was fuel! Similarly, it has more than 1% of that fuel left, so it could conceivably have gone another 250 to 300 miles.
But Fossett and the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer are once again in the history books and our heartiest congratulations to them, to their patron Richard Branson for backing yet another winner, to Steve Fossett for enduring more than 72 hours without sleep and to the team that put together the remarkable plane.
The aircraft is a trimaran-like construction with two huge external 'booms' which hold the landing gear, and 5,454 pounds of fuel on either side of the pilot's cockpit in the centre on top of which is the single Williams turbofan jet engine. The construction materials used for the structure of this aircraft are all graphite/epoxy. The stiffest carbon fibers are used in the construction of the wings, and the skin is a sandwich of graphite/epoxy and Aramid honeycomb. Advanced aerodynamic design accounts for the engine’s outstanding fuel economy at altitude, which makes the Williams FJ44 the ideal engine for the GlobalFlyer. In fact, it is the only engine with sufficient thrust-to-weight ratio and fuel economy to enable GlobalFlyer’s record-setting flights. Although remarkably quiet by jet engine standards, the engine is located so close to the pilot that sound deadening had to be added to the cockpit.
An more complete technical rundown of the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer can be found here.