Adventurer Steve Fossett completes global solo flight
Michael Conlon, Reuters/Chicago, Illinois
Adventurer Steve Fossett became the first person to make a nonstop, solo flight around the world without refueling, landing in Kansas on Thursday after nearly three days in the air. His single-engine jet-powered experimental plane touched down at the Salina Municipal Airport at 2:48 p.m. EST (2:48 a.m. in Jakarta) in a smooth landing about 67 hours after he left the same strip on Monday night.
"I'm a really lucky guy now, I got to achieve my ambition," the 60-year-old millionaire said after stepping out of the cramped capsule in which he had spent nearly three days.
"It was a difficult trip ... one of the hardest things I've ever done, to be on duty for three days, day and night, with virtually no sleep. It was an endurance test," Fossett said.
A high school band, dozens of media and hundreds of spectators were at the airport to watch the landing, along with Virgin Atlantic chief Richard Branson who paid for the project.
Branson waved a bedsheet-sized checkered flag when the plane touched down and sprayed Fossett with champagne after greeting him with a hug. "I couldn't be happier," he said. "It's been a magnificent trip."
The last day of Fossett's flight was troubled by a fuel shortage that could have jeopardized its completion.
Project director Paul Moore said fuel somehow leaked or more fuel was consumed than was realized early in the flight, leaving Fossett with barely enough to get across the Pacific.
At one point a landing in Japan was under consideration but the ground team decided to risk a Pacific crossing at least to Hawaii. Fossett made it there with no problems and thanks to a continuing tail wind crossed the California coast earlier in the day and onto Kansas under power.
Fossett, the first person to make a solo, nonstop balloon trip around the world, has claimed a number of air, land and sea records.
Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan were the first to make a nonstop, flight around the world without refueling in 1986 with a nine-day circumnavigation covering 26,366 miles (42,430 km).
While Fossett is the first to make the flight alone, it will not enter the record books since the Paris-based Federation Aeronautique Internationale has said it does not have a separate category for solo pilots.
Fossett's team however had said they hoped to qualify for distance and speed records, which remain to be certified.