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Scary Ending To An Epic Flight

Fossett's Emergency Landing Culminates 'Ultimate Flight'

February 12, 2006 — EAA member Steve Fossett's "Ultimate Flight" concluded dramatically Saturday when an electrical failure on board the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer forced him to cut short his record-breaking flight by about 100 miles. Fossett executed the difficult emergency landing at Bournemouth, England, at 1707 UTC (11:07 a.m. CT) after flying 26,389.3 miles in 76 hours, 45 minutes to establish a new world record for a non-stop, unrefueled flight. He originally planned to land at Kent International Airport.

Thus, the plan that hatched on AeroShell Square at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005 by Fossett and Virgin Atlantic Chairman Sir Richard Branson has finally come to pass.

But it wasn't without some unscripted maneuvering at the end. About 45 minutes before his scheduled landing, Fossett declared a May Day when he lost his generator. "I was starting my descent into (Kent) International up at 40,000 feet and I pulled back the power and the generator light came on," he explained at his post-flight press conference. "As pilots, we know that's really serious. If you don't have a generator, all you have for electrical power is what you have in your battery, and that will last you about 25 minutes. So I had to get the plane on the ground."

Easier said than done, however; ice had accumulated on the canopy blocking his visibility and there wasn't time to fly at a lower altitude to remove it. Fossett quickly phoned mission control and spoke to chief engineer Jon Karkow, who helped him speed up the checklist to work through everything that needed to be done. Then London Center (ATC) offered Fossett a choice of locations and he decided on Bournemouth.

"I'd flown in there before, also it was downwind, so I went on that and got there, made the landing just in time, because I was also running out of fuel, barely enough to complete the trip." Fossett blew both main tires on touchdown, just to add to everything else. "It was too exciting of a finish."

Several hours earlier Saturday, Fossett and his team made the decision to continue across the Atlantic rather than turn back after calculating that there was enough fuel and ample tail winds to complete the flight.

"There were many obstacles to overcome from the moment I took off from Kennedy Space Center, from the challenging take off, difficult cockpit conditions for the early part of the flight, severe turbulence over India, and constant concerns over the weakness of the jet streams due to the less than favorable weather patterns around the world. But never during all of this would I have believed that 45 minutes out of Kent I would be in an emergency situation the like of which I have rarely experienced before.

"I was so elated when I passed over Shannon, the final waypoint, and realized that I had broken a record that for such a long time I have dreamt of, that I could not have predicted the drama that was to follow before I could enjoy the moment!"

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