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Sun, Feb 12, 2006

The Ultimate Flight, By The Numbers

Here is the breakdown on Steve Fossett's record-setting Ultimate Flight, which came to a stressful-yet-successful end Saturday when the Virgin Atlantic Globalflyer landed in Bournemouth, England.

TOTAL MILES FLOWN: 26,389.3, breaking the record of 24,987 miles set in 1986 by Rutan's Voyager aircraft. The distance is also just over 1,000 miles more than the 25,361 miles balloonists Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard flew on their round-the-world flight in 1999.

Although he fell short of his 27,000 mile goal, Fossett can still boast of having the "Ultimate Flight."

TOTAL TIME IN THE AIR: 76 hours, 45 minutes

TOTAL FUEL CAPACITY OF THE GLOBALFLYER: Over 18,000 lbs.

FUEL LEFT ONBOARD AT TIME OF LANDING: Approximately 200 lbs. Eep.

NAIL BITING MOMENTS: At least three, one for each primary phase of the flight.

The stress caused by two bird strikes and fuel loss on takeoff was compounded by excessive overheating in the cabin as Fossett climbed to altitude after liftoff Wednesday (below), which forced Fossett to drink much of his approximately three-gallon supply of water much earlier than planned. After peaking at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, things only cooled down to below 100 degrees in the cabin after enough fuel had burned off to allow Fossett to throttle back the engine.

Later, severe turbulence caused some very stressful moments over India, as Fossett watched the GlobalFlyer's thin wings flex excessively in the strong air currents. Smartly, Fossett donned his oxygen mask and parachute in case of a structural failure... something he didn't mention to controllers until hours later, by which time things had settled down.

Lastly, of course, there was the matter that forced Fossett to land in Bournemouth Saturday morning, instead of travelling further on to Kent International. While on approach to Kent, the GlobalFlyer's generator failed --  which meant a total electrical breakdown. Fossett was then forced to make an emergency Mayday call to London ATC, where controllers gave Fossett what the team describes as "a short window" to land.

"If we didn’t get him down in fifteen minutes, he would have had to have ditched the plane," said Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgeway.

Heavy icing on the aircraft's windscreen also meant Steve could hardly see outside at all during landing.

NUMBER OF TIRES PUT ON FOSSETT'S BILL: Two. Both mainwheel tires burst on the GlobalFlyer during landing. Project founder Sir Richard Branson will likely have them added to his tab, though.

WHADDYA MEAN, YOU WANT ME TO GET ON ANOTHER %^$& PLANE? Okay, so this isn't a number... but it speaks to Fossett's (and Richard Branson's) sense of showmanship that... after Fossett received a brief medical checkup at Bournemouth... both men boarded Branson's private jet for the hop over to Kent, to greet the scores of eager attendees who had waited to greet the GlobalFlyer.

WANNA BUY A WATCH? As he did after Fossett's record-breaking flight-around-the-world last year, Branson will reportedly offer the Breitling wristwatch he 'lended' Fossett for the Ultimate Flight for sale on eBay, with the proceeds going to charity. The RTW watch brought over $650,000, and the Ultimate... watch... will likely at least match that. For the money (list price $10,000) the watch includes an emergency locator beacon.

FMI: www.globalflyer.com

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