Attempt to set unrefuelled single pilot world circumnavigation record will follow airways using GPS navigation

Steve Fosset's unrefuelled single-pilot world circumnavigation record attempt in the Scaled Composites-built GlobalFlyer aircraft could take place as early as April, but it is more likely to occur towards the end of the year during the next season of strong jetstreams in the northern hemisphere.

The flight, sponsored by Virgin Atlantic, will begin from a 3,400m (12,000ft) runway less than 3,000ft above sea level in one of four locations: Austin, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska; Salina, Kansas; or Wichita Falls, Texas. Virgin Atlantic will run the mission control centre (MCC) in New York for the 80h, 40,000km (21,600nm) flight.

Powered by a single 2,300lb- thrust (10.2kN) Williams FJ44-3 turbofan, the aircraft will take off at a weight of 9,990kg (22,000lb) carrying 8,200kg of fuel. Scaled Composites estimates the aircraft will take around 12h to climb to its optimum cruise altitude of 45,000ft, where it will fly at 250-270kt (460-500km/h).

The route will take the aircraft across the North Atlantic and over Cork, in southern Ireland; London; Rome; Cairo; Saudi Arabia; Delhi; Wuhan in China; Tokyo; Honolulu and back to the launch site.

The GlobalFlyer will operate on airways for much of its flight. Virgin Atlantic route planning manager Kevin Stass, who will be the mission control director, says real-time position reports transmitted to the MCC via satellite using GPS will be passed to air traffic control via the aeronautical fixed telecommunications network.

Communication between Fosset and the MCC will be made via an Iridium hand-held satcom telephone. "Contact with Steve will be mainly via email," says Stass.

The aircraft is undergoing ground tests at Scaled Composites' plant in Mojave, California ahead of its first flight, expected by early February. The test programme will comprise up to 50 flights, flown mainly by Scaled Composites pilots, and will include one 24h endurance flight test. Scaled Composites president Burt Rutan says there are no plans to fly the aircraft fully fuelled ahead of the record attempt.

Source: Flight International