Sir Richard Branson and Steve Fossett today announced at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh aviation festival that they had joined forces to launch “The Ultimate Flight” to set the record for the longest flight of all time, flying around 4,000 miles further than any plane or balloon has flown. Steve Fossett will again fly solo, non-stop and without refuelling in the Burt Rutan designed Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer aircraft in which he successfully circumnavigated the globe (covering a distance of 20,373 miles / 32,786 km) in March 2005.The current record for the FAI (Federation Aeronautics Internationale) Absolute World Record for Distance Without Landing is held by the Voyager aircraft (also designed by Burt Rutan) which flew for 24,987 miles (40,212 km) in 1986. The longest flight by a balloon is held by Breitling Orbiter 3 which flew for 25,361 miles (40,814 km) in 1999. Steve Fossett plans to take off from Salina, Kansas early in 2006. He will then circumnavigate the globe before flying across the North Atlantic and landing at an airport around London, UK. In so doing he will cover approximately 29,000 miles (46,500 km) in around 90 hours.
Commenting on The Ultimate Flight record attempt, Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways said:
“This is the ultimate aviation record and an almost unbelievable test of Steve and the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer’s endurance. 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. The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer is a unique aircraft - one of the most fuel-efficient ever made - and Steve has proved time and again that he stands apart from other record breakers. If he pulls this one off it will be his greatest achievement to date!”
Steve Fossett described his feelings on the attempt:
“The Longest Distance airplane flight is possible with the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer but very difficult. I am attracted by a challenge that is at the very edge of my ability and endurance.”
Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer suffered a dramatic loss of fuel which threatened to prevent Steve Fossett achieving the circumnavigation. The aircraft took off with 18,100lbs of fuel but within the first few hours of flight 3,088lbs of fuel disappeared. Scaled Composites (the Burt Rutan company which built the plane) have since established that the fuel escaped through vents in the fuel tank behind the engine and have made modifications to prevent this happening again. Despite this loss the aircraft performed better than expected and landed with 1,500lbs of fuel. These factors give the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer team the confidence to believe the aircraft can fly much further than any previous plane or balloon.
Jon Karkow, GlobalFlyer Lead Engineer at Scaled Composites, also welcomed the new record attempt:
“We designed GlobalFlyer to fly around the world without stopping and to smash the speed record while doing so. To ensure success on the first attempt, the decision was made early on to make the aircraft capable of globe-circling range plus a fifteen percent margin. This decision, along with unexpectedly strong tailwinds, was the key to the subsequent success of the flight - a flight during which a huge amount of fuel was lost due to a fuel system anomaly. The question remains; just how far could we have flown if that fuel hadn’t been lost and with equally strong tailwinds? The problems with the fuel system have now been corrected and it is up to Steve Fossett and the rest of his world team to find out!”
The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer aircraft is a single pilot, single engine turbofan aircraft designed for non-stop global circumnavigation. Scaled used computer aided aerodynamics to design the aircraft. The structure of the plane is entirely made from composite material and is ultra light. The aircraft will fly at 45,000ft and travel at speeds in excess of 250knots (285 mph, 440kph).
A dedicated website - www.virginatlanticglobalflyer.com - will provide updates and details of the record attempt including an unprecedented level of live communication from the aircraft during the flight itself. The site has been designed and managed by Conchango and hosted by Energis.