Fossett Still Unfazed

I talked to crazy rich-guy adventurer Steve Fossett on the phone today. For those of you who like to keep abreast of his world record-breaking exploits, here's the latest: Last week he set a new record in his Burt Rutan-designed Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer (check out the image of the plane below), zipping all the way around the world and then some for longest nonstop flight ever. Fossett flew 26,389.3 miles in 76 hours and 45 minutes. He took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on February 8, flew around the world and over the Atlantic again before landing in Bournemouth, England, on February 11. Apparently the flight was even more harrowing than his around-the-world stint last year: he had a dangerously long takeoff roll in Florida; hit two birds on his ascent; lost 750 pounds of fuel in a similar problem as last year's (in which he lost nearly 3,000 pounds of fuel) saw his cockpit temperatures soar to 130 degrees because of a pressurization problem; and faced tailwinds over the Pacific that were slow enough to jeopardize the mission. But held up like a champ. Today he told me: "I expected a lot fewer problems than we actually had. The airplane was proven substantially with the first solo flight last year, but this flight offered a lot of surprises. The takeoff was really close—I had to use both my hands and my full body force pulling back on the control stick to get it to lift off." And the landing was even worse: GlobalFlyer suffered a total electrical failure during his final descent, with only 200 pounds of fuel left. This caused a diversion from his intended airport, Kent, to Bournemouth, where, with ice forming on his windshield that reduced his visibility to nearly zero, he blew out two tires during an emergency landing. Whew—close call, fella. —Eric Adams