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Archive for Sunday, February 20, 2005

All eyes on Salina as historic flight nears takeoff

February 20, 2005

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— Gerald Cook is ready for his town to soar into the global limelight.

It's bound to happen -- as soon as the jet stream cooperates.

Cook, president of the Salina Chamber of Commerce, and other residents here have been waiting for more than a month for millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett to launch the GlobalFlyer from the Salina Municipal Airport. Once the weather cooperates, Fossett's attempt to be the first person to fly solo nonstop around the world without refueling can begin.

The flight is capturing the imagination of aviation enthusiasts. But with 300 media representatives and 30,000 spectators expected in town for the event, Cook's imagination is focused on what it could do for the Salina economy.

"What we're getting is earned media," Cook said. "It's stuff you don't have to pay for. If 30 seconds are worth $2.4 million for Super Bowl ads, what are hours worth? I fully believe we're talking about millions."

The flight already has been delayed several times. It initially was scheduled for early January.

The latest weather report shows favorable weather conditions for a launch Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

As soon as the takeoff date is selected -- crews are expected to give four days notice -- Salina's hotels and restaurants are expected to fill with media and spectators.

"We're ready," said Dennis Kuhlman, dean of Kansas State University's Salina Campus, which is assisting with preparing the aircraft and mission control. "The technology is ready. That's the important part for us. We just adjust to the schedule."

Philip Grassa, crew chief for the GlobalFlyer, exits the plane
after completing repairs while another crew member prepares to make
more modifications. The plane is tentatively scheduled to take off
from Salina Municipal Airport this week in an attempt to make
history by flying solo nonstop around the world without refueling.

Philip Grassa, crew chief for the GlobalFlyer, exits the plane after completing repairs while another crew member prepares to make more modifications. The plane is tentatively scheduled to take off from Salina Municipal Airport this week in an attempt to make history by flying solo nonstop around the world without refueling.

'Hands-on experience'

The plane -- financed by Virgin Atlantic airline mogul Richard Branson -- has been in Salina since Jan. 6.

Most days, it sits in a large, otherwise empty hangar at the Salina Municipal Airport, which closed as Schilling Air Force Base in 1967. Crews are tweaking the plane's equipment, and it's been taken on test flights three times since arriving. Fossett has been on site twice to check on preparations.

The airport was chosen for the flight mainly because of its 12,300-feet runway and its location in the middle of the United States. The location is important. If Fossett runs out of fuel, he'll have options for landing at other airports in the western United States.

Edwards Air Force Base -- where the Space Shuttle typically lands -- was the other finalist for the takeoff and landing site.












KSU students have been involved with the preparations, both for flight planning and final work on the airplane.

Kuhlman said KSU students helped create two replacement parts for the GlobalFlyer: one for pressurizing the cabin and another for the pilot relief system. They're been working side-by-side with workers from Scaled Composites LLC in Mojave, Calif., which designed the plane.

"It's a very hands-on experience for the students," Kuhlman said. "They're some of the leading people in the world in terms of composite aircraft. You can't get this kind of learning experience in the classroom. This is the real world."

Student's perspective

Steve Fossett, pilot of the GlobalFlyer, and Richard Branson, the
Virgin Atlantic founder who funded the plane, are behind the
around-the-world flight scheduled to take off from Salina. They
were photographed in January 2004 in Mojave, Calif.

Steve Fossett, pilot of the GlobalFlyer, and Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic founder who funded the plane, are behind the around-the-world flight scheduled to take off from Salina. They were photographed in January 2004 in Mojave, Calif.

Normally, the center of activity in Campus Center on the KSU-Salina campus is the cafeteria, where the 1,000 students grab lunch between classes.

But when the GlobalFlyer takes off, the hub will be a room in the back of the center, which has been filled with computer equipment that will track Fossett around the world.

Nancy Milleret, a KSU junior from Tonganoxie, has been working in mission control for weeks, helping track jet stream conditions that will ultimately decide when the plane takes off. Crews want the biggest push from the jet stream with the least amount of turbulence to conserve fuel.

"It's stressful," she said. "We still have to do all of our other things, like go to class."















Facts and figures about the GlobalFlyer and its attempted record-breaking flight.Wing Span: 114 feetWing Area: 400 square feetLength: 44.1 feetHeight: 13.3 feetGross Weight: 22,000 poundsEmpty Weight: 3,350 poundsPercent weight that is fuel, at takeoff: 83 percentNumber of fuel tanks: 13Cockpit length: 7 feetAltitude of flight: 36,000 to 51,000 feetSource: www.globalflyer.com

But she said rubbing elbows with Fossett, who has taken the students involved out to dinner twice, made the work worth it. The millionaire, who lives in Chicago, claims 102 world records to his name. The most recent was the first solo, around-the-world balloon trip in 2002.

"He's a pretty fun guy," Milleret said. "One of the (student) pilots described him as a really physically fit grandpa. You wouldn't know he's a big millionaire."

During the flight, Milleret and three other students will help track Fossett in mission control. KSU students will be bumped from their usual cafeteria to make way for a media gathering area, which Milleret said has irritated some students. Some also were upset over losing their parking during the event.

But Kuhlman, the dean, said the media attention would be worth the sacrifices.

"What opportunity would I have to get a European reporter or European press coverage in Salina, Kansas?" Kuhlman said. "It's basically impossible."

Business catapult

Salina officials are hoping the excitement doesn't end when Fossett lands the GlobalFlyer on the runway.

The Salina Municipal Airport bills itself as "America's fuel stop." About 7,000 corporate jets stop there each year to refuel because of its central location.

The Salina Airport Authority and Chamber of Commerce have been working to make the industrial park surrounding the airport more than just a fuel stop. About 4,000 people work at the airport site daily, with current tenants including Raytheon Aircraft Co., FedEx, ElDorado Bus Co. and Tony's Pizza, Salina's largest employer.





The GlobalFlyer takeoff is tentatively set for Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Updates can be found at www.globalflyer.com.Public viewing areas for the launch and landing will be available on the tarmac near the airport terminal and near the Raytheon Aircraft facility. Gates will open two hours before the launch and landing, and officials suggest bringing lawn chairs, blankets and a radio -- the event will be broadcast live on KSAL, 1150 AM.An accessible van will be available to take people with disabilities from the parking areas to the viewing areas.No beverage coolers, firearms, fireworks, laser lights, pets or objects that could blow away will be allowed.

"We want to build on that success," said Cook, the Chamber of Commerce president.

Cook said officials would like to see more aviation companies at the airport. City representatives were in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to lobby Airbus to construct a plant at the airport. The plant would build a new tanker jet to refuel Air Force planes.

He said interest among the aviation business sector has picked up since Salina was announced as the GlobalFlyer site in December.

But for now, Salina aviation officials are focused on the task at hand: sending Fossett and his plane around the world.

"As an aviator, I feel it every time I come and look at this beautiful airplane," said Tim Rogers, director of the Salina Airport Authority. "It's the imagination that one person has to undertake a feat to go around the world solo, nonstop on one load of fuel. Everybody would like to be part of history, and this is history in the making."

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