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Tue, Feb 07, 2006

GlobalFlyer Grounded By Fuel Leak

May Attempt Liftoff Thursday

Aero-News has learned takeoff for Steve Fossett's Ultimate Flight, originally scheduled for sometime after 6:42 am Tuesday morning, has been cancelled due to a combination of less-than-favorable weather conditions, and a small fuel leak on the GlobalFlyer.

As of Sunday night, the GlobalFlyer had been positioned at runway 33 -- but there had been lingering concern throughout the night that the weather conditions would not be at an optimum for a take off Tuesay. With 8 knot quartering tailwinds (with a crosswind component of 3 knots), there was a risk such tailwinds could have increased the take off distance and how far he would be rolling off ground.

With a 15,000ft runway and a 10,000ft take off distance, there is no room for hesitation. If Fossett was to attempt a take off -- but then have to abort half way through -- he would need about 8,000ft for the aircraft to come to a stop due to the small braking capacity and weight of the plane.

Despite those concerns, systems were still go for a Tuesday launch... until the team encountered another problem. At around 06:50 local Florida time, Fossett and the team discovered a mechanical fault on the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer which meant it would be unsafe to take off and attempt the record.

Jon Karkow of Scaled Composites explained the problem:

"Unfortunately for today a small mechanical issue called a halt to the flight. We have discoverd a small fuel leak which happens to be an element of the fuel system which we changed last flight. This new element has never been tested with a full fuel load before... We learned once it was fully fueled that we had a small leak in that system. The leak is a fairly simple thing to fix but it will take around 24 hours because it requires fuel sealant material.

"One of the new vent systems that has been added in the boom tank is where the problem occured and one of the vent lines that penetrate the tank has a leak and this was discovered when fuel started leaking out of the wheel well," Karkow added.

"We discovered the fuel leak about 25 minutes ago just as we were putting my equipment in the airplane and we were ready to take off on time as planned," said a disappointed Fossett.

GlobalFlyer sponsor Sir Richard Branson, however, said Fossett is used to the variable timeframes involved when trying to break an aerial record.

"Both of us are balloonists and we have had one occasion where I had to wait three months, but don't worry, it won't be such a long wait this time," said Branson.

Although good weather conditions are expected for the rest of the week, the GlobalFlyer teams expects another launch attempt won't happen until Thursday at the earliest. Further analysis of jet streams and weather conditions will be carried out during the next few hours to assess whether the flight is possible this week.

FMI: www.globalflyer.com

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