Correction to This Article
A Feb. 12 article about the completion of the record-setting nonstop flight of the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer incorrectly said that pilot Steve Fossett used a cell phone to communicate. It was a satellite phone.

Fossett Sets Flight Distance Record

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By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 12, 2006

As if dodging three days of near-catastrophe were not enough, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett had a total power failure in the waning moments of his globe-circling voyage yesterday but made an emergency landing and coasted to a stop on two burst tires to complete the longest nonstop flight in history.

"If we didn't get him down in 15 minutes, he would have had to ditch the plane," Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Steve Ridgeway said in a Web site statement shortly after Fossett's Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer landed in Bournemouth, England, at 5:07 p.m. (12:07 p.m. Eastern time).

"I was really lucky to make it here today; there was a lot going on," Fossett told reporters after he landed. "The tension of the final part really took it out of me, but I will be fine in the morning."

The flight, which began at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 7:22 a.m. (Eastern time) Wednesday, lasted 76 hours and 45 minutes and covered 26,389.3 miles, the GlobalFlyer Web site said, more than 1,000 miles farther than the flight of the balloon Breitling Orbiter 3 in 1999.

Fossett also eclipsed the airplane distance record set by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in 1986 aboard Voyager, which made the first unrefueled circumnavigation of the globe in 1986, and which, like GlobalFlyer, was built by Dick's brother, aircraft innovator Burt Rutan of Mojave, Calif.

"Dick made the point in 1986 that it would be good for someone to come out and beat the record, and he's delighted to give it up," Burt Rutan said in a telephone interview last week. Fossett's latest feat came after he took GlobalFlyer on the first-ever solo round-the-world flight.

Yesterday's finale, however, was anything but routine. Virgin Atlantic said Fossett had just finished talking on his cell phone to Virgin Atlantic Chairman Richard Branson, who had congratulated him on the distance record -- accomplished as GlobalFlyer flew over Shannon, Ireland.

"He's feeling really good and confident," Branson told mission control, the Web site said.

Moments later, and just a few miles from Fossett's scheduled landing at Kent International Airport, south of London, GlobalFlyer's generator failed, causing a complete loss of power, the Web site said. He made an emergency call to Bournemouth and got clearance to land.

Besides the blowouts, GlobalFlyer's windshield was so badly iced up that Fossett could barely see out, and engineers found that the plane had only 200 pounds of fuel remaining of his initial 18,000 pound-load.

This probably came as no surprise.

GlobalFlyer has a 114-foot wingspan -- comparable to a Boeing 737-900 -- and looks like a trimaran, with 13 gas tanks, three fuselages, a minuscule cockpit and a single jet engine atop the plane. Empty, GlobalFlyer weighs a wispy 3,000 pounds.


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