Salina The experimental aircraft that businessman and adventurer Steve Fossett plans to fly nonstop around the world next month completed its first major test, flying from Mojave, Calif., to Salina.
Fossett made the trip in the GlobalFlyer in about six hours Thursday. Once on the ground, Fossett said he planned to start his attempt at the first solo, nonstop flight around the world without refueling in early February.
The 23,000-mile flight, expected to take less than 80 hours, would also begin and end at Salina Municipal Airport in central Kansas.
The flight's mission control headquarters will be at the Kansas State University College of Technology and Aviation in Salina.
Fossett said Thursday's flight was important because it was the first extended trip of the radically designed plane. He said he planned to test-fly it three or four more times.
"It's a big step forward," he said. "We learned of a couple of problems that we can fix."
For such a long flight, 82 percent of the plane's weight at takeoff will be fuel. As that is consumed, Fossett will have to deal with changes in the plane's handling.
A key question Thursday was how he planned to stay awake for 80 hours during the trip.
Fossett, who holds world records for balloon, jet, glider and sailboat trips, said he had gone long periods without sleep and it helped to be healthy.
"I've done it before," he said. "We're protected with autopilots in case I do nod off."
Virgin Atlantic Airways is providing financial support for the attempt, and its president, Richard Branson, plans to ride in a chase plane. Branson and Fossett are friends and came up with the idea of a round-the-world plane ride many years ago.
The GlobalFlyer was designed by Burt Rutan, who also built SpaceShipOne. That craft won the $10 million XPrize in October for being the first private flight in space.
Salina, chosen because of its central location, available facilities and 12,300-foot runway, was picked over California's Edwards Air Force Base.
The airport was used during World War II as a training base for B-17 and B-29 crews. During the Cold War, two squadrons of B-47s and Atlas missiles were based there.
The site is currently used by the Kansas National Guard, Kansas State and numerous commercial aviation manufacturers.