Contamination halted GlobalFlyer

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Carbon contamination of brushes could have caused arcing and the failure of the electrical generator that led to Steve Fossett’s emergency landing in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer on 11 February.

Fossett landed at Bournemouth Hurn airport in the UK, instead of his intended destination Kent International airport, south east of London. He took off from the Kennedy Space Center’s Space Shuttle runway on 8 February for the non-stop distance world record attempt.

To cope with the electrical problems mission control advised the shutting down of on-board systems. “He shut down the electronic flight instrument system screen, electric heaters, navigation and strobe lights, igniters, the BlueSky Iridium system [and] he used the emergency pneumatic gear extension rather than the standard electric,” says Scaled Composites’ GlobalFlyer chief engineer Jon Karkow.

When the generator failed the battery voltage fell from 27.7v to 24.2v. Fossett was unable to reset the generator, but the batteries, designed to last for 1.5h, provided power for the 30min of flight left to reach Hurn.

Steve Fossett achieved his record by flying 26,389 miles (42,486km).

ROB COPPINGER / LONDON