Salina — Millionaire Steve Fossett took off Monday night on his latest adventure: flying solo around the world without a single stop, not even for a tank of gas.
Fossett, the first person to circle the globe solo in a balloon, launched his GlobalFlyer from the Salina Municipal Airport at 6:47 p.m., beginning a 66-hour, 23,000-mile journey by climbing northeast into a darkening sky.
Hundreds of spectators, braving a bitterly cold wind, gathered along the two-mile-long runway to watch the takeoff. Fossett, 60, hopes to return Thursday morning to Salina having placed his name next to yet another world record.
By late Monday night, Fossett was over Canada, project manager Paul Moore said.
"He was pretty determined to get away," Moore said of Fossett in a briefing hours after the takeoff.
Financed by Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, Fossett's trip would be the first solo flight around the world without stopping to refuel.
Aviation pioneer Wiley Post made the first solo around-the-world trip in 1933, taking more than seven days and stopping numerous times along the way. The first nonstop global flight without refueling was made in 1986 by the duo of Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan, brother of Burt Rutan, designer of the GlobalFlyer.
Prior to Monday night's launch, Fossett had logged about 30 hours in the jet-powered aircraft. The flight was postponed several times because of shifting jet stream patterns or weather at the airport.
Besides the nonstop record, Fossett is attempting to break seven other aviation records, including the longest flight by a jet aircraft. The current record is more than 12,000 miles, set by a B-52 bomber in 1962.
Mission control director Kevin Stass said Fossett would fly over Chicago, Detroit and Canada before heading across the Atlantic Ocean late Monday night. The route would then take him over Africa, the Middle East, India, China and the Pacific Ocean.
The flight plan was adjusted once more late Monday after Algeria closed a portion of its airspace, Stass said. The change, he said, would slightly reduce the overall length of the flight and save some of the 18,000 pounds of fuel aboard the single-engine jet.
Fossett plans to fly at an average speed of 287.5 mph and rely on the jet stream to stretch his fuel. The GlobalFlyer will have about 15 percent extra fuel to allow for weather conditions or other changes to the flight plan, said Jon Karkow, chief engineer for the flight.
There was a risk the fuel could freeze from flying in the cold at altitudes of 52,000 feet for such a long time.
Branson watched the takeoff from the side of the runway along with Fossett's wife, Betty.
"It was obviously an emotional moment and the most dangerous part of the journey," Branson said. "It was an enormous relief when it actually came off the ground."
Fossett became the first to fly a balloon solo around the world in 2002 after nearly dying twice in six attempts to set the record. He has also tried to break the world gliding altitude record for the past four years in New Zealand but has failed because of poor conditions.