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Fri, Mar 04, 2005

Who's Really Behind GlobalFlyer?

Sure, There's Rutan And Branson, But Who Else?

If you were hoping for an expose on how the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderbergers are behind this affront to isolationism, you've come to the wrong website. But if you want to know about the amazing technology of this plane and who's behind it you came to the right place.

Yes, this is Steve Fossett's, Burt Rutan's and Richard Branson's day, and we will take nothing from them. But let's also recognize some of the other team members that made this record-shattering flight happen. I'm sure I'm leaving out somebody important, but these were all important in one way or another.  In alphabetical order:


Original in-house code name for the GlobalFlyer. (To count as a world-circling flight, the aircraft must go at least as far as the Tropic of Capricorn or Tropic of Cancer -- which are the same distance, for the geographically challenged. The name Cancer was probably never considered!) It is also known as Scaled Project 311. The machine gets some credit, but there would be no machine without these individuals listed below.

Chuck Coleman

He is responsible for systems, primarily the innovative fuel system and the control system. Also the pressurization system, including the bog-simple doors: no hinges, no latches. They just plug in like a cork (as Steve models, below). The fuel system of GlobalFlyer is highly automated. The engine always draws from a single header tank, in the fuselage behind the pilot. The rest of the fuel is in 12 tanks with a design that uses pumps where necessary and gravity feed where possible to save weight. The wings drain by gravity into the booms, from whence the fuel is pumped to the header tank.

For all its high-tech, the GlobalFlyer has no control surface a J-3 cub lacks (unless you count the drag chutes): ailerons, elevators and rudder. All control surfaces are extremely light: 8 ounces per aileron, for example. The hinges were composite; as are the pushrods and bellcranks. Each one saves a few ounces over a metal part. There's no trim system. Instead, the plane was designed so that its enormous weight changes, and its limited configuration changes (gear, drag chutes) don't require trim.

Ian Craft

Backup Mission Control Director, from Virgin Atlantic's Connecticut office.

David Dehenau

In-flight Weather Briefer. His is a familiar voice to Steve Fossett, as he did the same job in Fossett's balloon circumnavigation. Dehenau is a Belgian TV weatherman in "normal" times!

Matthew Gionta

Early in the project was a co-engineer with Jon Karkow. Later, he moved to another Scaled project, but his contribution deserves recognition.

Phillip Grassa

Crew chief, prepared GlobalFlyer for each of its flights.

Richard Hodgson

He was the shop leader, keeping the project on track and about 20 other staffers busy.

Jon Karkow

Project engineer and test pilot for GlobalFlyer, responsible for most of the overall and detail design (Burt roughed out the concept). Karkow probably deserves the lion's share of credit, among these listed team members. A veteran of Scaled coming up on his 20-year point, and a rarity in that he joined Scaled straight out of engineering school. By that time, he had already built a Rutan-designed airplane (a Quickie). During the mission, Karkow flew in the Starship chase plane at takeoff and landing.(Photo, courtesy Scaled)

Shawn Keller

Project electrical engineer. Steve Fossett spent most of his flight reclining, looking at Coleman's fuel system or the panel Keller designed and built, featuring dual Chelton displays. (He only sat up with his head in the bubble canopy on takeoff and landing -- shades of Lindbergh's blind Spirit of St. Louis!). Keller was also responsible for the space-age (literally: it relied on Iridium satcom) communications system.

John Krueger

Mechanic, worked with Grassa to prepare the airplane and fix any squawks.

Mark Mangelsdorf

Scaled aerodynamicist who formerly worked with John Roncz, found himself working with Roncz again.

Bob Morgan

Morgan designed the landing gear. A little known fact about Scaled is that they have more landing gear design experience than just about anybody - they do all their landing gear in house. The gear was also one of the few places in the airplane metal was used (another was the engine mount). In order to save weight, the gear didn't cycle normally. It could be blown up with compressed air in cans - once. And after that, it can come down by gravity - once.

The drag chutes that convert the GlobalFlyer from the 37:1 glide ratio of a world class sailplane to a steep enough glide to assure landing are also one-way: once they're deployed, they can neither be retracted nor jettisoned. The pilot is committed to land.

The plane is steered by differential braking to save the weight of nosewheel steering -- and the dual nosewheel has a live axle to save the weight of a shimmy damper.

Another amazing feature of the landing gear is that, because the plane has much more span than length, it's stored sideways in its hangar. Morgan designed the landing gear so that they are freely castering for ground handling. (They lock fore-and-aft for flight, of course).

Clint Nichols

Propulsion design. Nichols also served as a flight test engineer. (Nobody at Scaled gets away with just one job). One of his contributions was the use of JP-4 fuel (now uncommon) for its ability to stand up to being cold-soaked without freezing (Jet A or JP-8 would not fare so well). During the mission, he was in mission control most of the time.

John Roncz

Legendary aerodynamicist, first came to public attention through the eponymous canard that solved a peculiar problem of Rutan's EZ designs. Roncz did detail design on the wing; used an incredibly complicated computer program to make it happen. Roncz is an independent consultant, not a Scaled employee.

Joe Ruddy

Designed, and helped build, the ultra-lightweight structure of Kevlar and carbon fiber, in which the skins, for example, were principal load bearing members with very, very few bulkheads and ribs. The entire structure weighs 1,727 pounds (500 of this is the carbon spar, the heaviest single component). As you might expect for

Dick Rutan

Not just the guy whose record was broken, the elder Rutan suggested to Fossett that he fly solo round the world -- and suggested that his brother Burt could design the plane.

Doug Shane

Scaled Chief Pilot and Chief of Flight Test was, along with Karkow, a designated test pilot for the GlobalFlyer (all while holding down heavy responsibilities on the space program).

Kevin Stass

Mission Control director during the flight; alternated shifts with Ian Craft and the versatile Clint Nichols. Stass is a Virgin Atlantic flight planner.

Williams International

This firm of quiet professionals provided the FJ44-ATW engine that made GlobalFlyer go. (It was Karkow's second choice, but the engine he wanted, the Garrett F-109, was only produced in prototype quantities for the ill-fated T-46 trainer project).

By assigning these people titles, I fear I have gravely misrepresented the way Scaled Composites does things. Almost everyone has more than one job, or, if he has one job, its limits are fuzzy. It's a fourth-generation knowledge based business.

In true Scaled tradition, everybody did finish work.

FMI: www.virginatlanticglobalflyer.com  www.scaled.com


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