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Fri, Apr 01, 2005

Fossett Seeks New Record

Adventurer Plans Channel Flight In Radical Compression-Powered Plane

04.01.05 Special Edition: Steve Fossett holds records in jets, gliders, and now, is the fastest man to fly an airplane around the world, and the only one to do it solo. For anyone else, it might be time to retire. For Fossett, it just means it's time to find a new challenge.

In this case, the new challenge is to set distance and speed records in a type of airplane that has never carried a human being before.

"I don't know how Paul MacCready missed this one," Fossett told Aero-News. "You'd think it would be right up his alley. But for whatever reason he left rubber power on the table, and I'm going to do it."

Unlike SpaceShipOne, which burned rubber in its revolutionary hybrid rocket engine, Fossett's new record-breaker will use the amazing elastic properties of natural and synthetic rubber, worked into eighty-foot-long fibers by a German industrial firm. Wound up, the fibers give the plane the equivalent of almost 800 horsepower -- for 14 seconds. After that, Fossett and the craft glide to a safe landing. To ensure that safe touchdown, the flight is expected to take place somewhere where there is nothing of value to collide with: the Great Plains, the Argentine pampas, an area of level Arctic permafrost in Canada's Yukon territory, and Chicago are on the shortlist.

The as-yet-unsponsored and -unnamed airplane is constructed of a single long beam made of several Ecuadorian balsa tree trunks carefully scarf-jointed by expert woodworkers. On this "fuselage" sits a Trek bicycle seat, a pair of fixed handlebars, and a pair of foot-pegs.

"They're actually from my Harley -- I won't be riding it till later this season. Did you see that the pegs, and the handlebars, are fixed?
It doesn't actually have control surfaces as we know them," Fossett explained. "It's kind of weight-shift."

"Hey -- don't look at me like that. Compared to plunging 25,000 feet into the Pacific under a deflated balloon, or flying around the world without sleeping in seventy hours, this is a piece of cake. Come to think of it, the no sleep in seventy hours is no big deal either.
Freight dogs do it all the time!"

Aero-News wanted to know why the adventurer didn't continue his productive partnership with Burt Rutan.

"Rutan's a bit peeved I didn't call him, but I wanted the chance to work with nature's own composite," Fossett said, "and really, Burt is the Stradivarius of the synthetic stuff." The designer of the craft is Paul K. Guillow IV of Wakefield, Massachusetts. The dream of rubber-powered flight has driven Guillow's family since before Lindbergh's ascent to fame confirmed the supremacy of the Otto-cycle internal-combustion engine, as first developed for aviation by the Wrights.

Guillow's great-great-uncle, the first Paul, had actually sketched an early version of Fossett's new machine before World War II (above), but due to the exigencies of war production, the drawings were set aside; they lay forgotten in the back of a dusty company safe until 2003.

Guillow was not available for an interview; he had gone into downtown Wakefield to get some wire and fishing sinkers.

Of course, such an undertaking is very expensive. While Fossett is a successful, wealthy man in his own right, he's always relied on sponsorship to pull off these daring flights. If Branson doesn't sponsor the flight, who will? "Heck, it could be anybody. Just not George Soros and Warren Buffett. I just found out that they were short-selling me with the oddsmakers in Vegas, and that doesn't sit right. But I expect Sir Richard will come through. We haven't worked out the sponsorship details yet, so I don't want to disclose anything prematurely. It will NOT be the Virgin Latex though. Again, it's not a lock that Sir Richard will sponsor this flight, but he has promised me the loan of a pair of brawny footmen to wind the elastic."

FMI: www.guillow.com

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