Topeka Aviation's adventuresome duo of Steve Fossett and Sir Richard Branson are at it again, announcing plans Thursday for another world record flight in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer.
Fossett became the first person to fly nonstop and without refueling around the globe, starting from and ending in Salina in March.
He now wants to set a distance record. The current plan is to fly from Kansas, circumnavigating the globe and landing near London, a trek of about 29,000 miles. However, another possibility is using one of NASA's runways at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Fossett said the final decision on the launch site would be made later this year.
If successful, the flight would break the current aircraft record of 24,987 miles, set by the Voyager aircraft in 1996 and the balloon record of 25,361 miles set by the Breitling Orbiter 3 in 1999.
Fossett, 60, already holds world records in five pursuits: in balloons, sailboats, gliders, airships and powered aircraft.
"This length of flight will be at the very limit of the airplane. It will be a stretch of my personal endurance, as well," Fossett said in a telephone interview from Wisconsin.
The flight is tentatively scheduled for February, when winds are favorable. Fossett said he needed an average tail wind of 57 mph to make his first flight, but winter conditions in the northern hemisphere could produce average tail winds of 83 mph.
Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority, said Fossett expressed interest in attempting the distance record after landing in March. Those plans were firmed up Monday, with Virgin Atlantic's operations center outside London serving as mission control. Salina was mission control for the first flight.
"At this point, the indications are that Salina will be the launch site," Rogers said.
The next attempt by Fossett would take about 90 hours. He piloted the GlobalFlyer for 67 hours when he took off and landed in Salina, his flight financed by Branson.
"He recognizes a good adventure, and he knows how to make good use of it," Fossett said.
Fossett said he got about one hour of sleep during that flight through short naps, but he expects to be able to get more rest on the next flight. And, like the first flight, he will dine on 200-calorie diet milkshakes.
Fossett's team chose the central Kansas location because of its 12,300-foot runway. The aircraft needs about 8,000 feet for takeoff because of the excessive fuel load needed for the endurance flight.
GlobalFlyer is a single-engine, composite jet aircraft designed by Burt Rutan, who designed the Voyager aircraft.
Rutan also designed the Virgin Atlantic SpaceShipOne, which won the X Prize for being the first civilian spacecraft flown above 100 kilometers. That project also is financed by Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, who plans to begin offering commercial space flight in the next few years.
"This is the ultimate aviation record and an almost unbelievable test of Steve and the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer's endurance," Branson said. "Both pilot and plane will be tested well beyond any previous flight in history, and if successful will set a record that I suspect will never be exceeded."
Fossett announced his intentions at the Experimental Aircraft Association Airventure in Oshkosh, Wis. He flew the GlobalFlyer to the event from Salina, where it has been since completing its record-setting flight.
During the first flight, Fossett developed fuel problems when about 3,000 pounds of fuel disappeared. Engineers determined that the fuel vented off through the fuel tank behind the turbofan jet engine. Engineers have since modified the aircraft to prevent losses in the future, moving the vents to the wing boom tanks.
"The function of the airplane is better than I expected. Actually, not many serious problems," Fossett said.