Image: Fossett on screen at mission control
Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer
GlobalFlyer mission controllers in Kansas communicate Wednesday with solo pilot Steve Fossett, seen in a cockpit view displayed on a giant screen in the background. staff and news service reports
updated 3/3/2005 12:01:35 AM ET 2005-03-03T05:01:35

Shrugging off fuel glitches, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett decided late Wednesday to risk a long crossing across the Pacific Ocean in pursuit of history.

"Let's go for it," he told his Kansas mission control, according to project director Paul Moore.

Fossett has flown the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer more than 80 percent of the way toward his goal of the first solo flight around the world without refueling. An apparent problem in the fuel systems had prompted him to consider ending the flight in Hawaii.

But Moore said Fossett was encouraged by strong tailwinds and the results of a shifting of fuel from the plane's outermost tanks to its central ones. As of 11 p.m. ET, Fossett was about 400 miles north of Honolulu.

"I have every hope of reaching Salina tomorrow," Fossett told an evening news conference.

Video: '4 nights in 2 1/2 days' Fossett has already accomplished one of his goals -- breaking the record for the longest nonstop, unrefueled flight by a jet. That particular record — 12,532 miles (20,168 kilometers) — was set by a B-52 bomber in 1962. Moore told Fossett late Wednesday he had broken the record a few hours previously.

The GlobalFlyer launched on Monday, but Fossett said late Wednesday that it felt more like three days, since in his circle around the globe he was getting "four nights in two and a half days."

"I am feeling tired," Fossett said, adding that he been taking "minimal naps while keeping an eye on the instruments."

Moore also told Fossett of the extraordinary public interest in his flight, noting that the GlobalFlyer Web site had received 76 million hits.

Fuel puzzle
Fossett's decision to press on was the second such decision made after the discovery Wednesday morning of a fuel system problem.

Moore explained that the fuel sensors in the plane's 13 tanks differed from readings of how quickly the plane’s single jet engine was burning fuel. The crew was forced to assume that 2,600 pounds (1,180 kilograms) of the original 18,100 pounds (8,227 kilograms) of fuel “disappeared” early in the flight, he said. It wasn’t clear whether the problem was with the instruments that track how much fuel remains or if some fuel had been lost because of a leak or accidental venting.

However, based on mission control's analysis of the situation, Fossett decided to head for Hawaii rather than turning around for a landing in Japan. In the meantime, fuel was shifted from the outermost tanks to the plane's central tanks.

Speaking after reaching Hawaii, Fossett said he was confident he could make it.

"The jet stream has been extraordinary ... and in addition I have practiced fuel conservation," he said. "I believe we no longer need to give any consideration of landing in Hawaii."

"There's still no room for complacency," Moore said, but he didn't think "there is any doubt that [Fossett] can make it to land."

While the GlobalFlyer could glide to a landing short of Salina, Moore said he thought that was unlikely. "We expect with the current winds, that he will get back here with fuel to spare," he said.

Financed by fellow adventurer
The GlobalFlyer project is being financed by Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, a longtime friend and fellow adventurer. On Wednesday, Branson said he thought Fossett still had "a shot at the record."

Video: Reaching for the record Fossett took off from Salina on Monday evening and had hoped to complete the 23,000-mile (36,800-kilometer) journey by midday Thursday. Until the fuel crisis arose, the most serious glitch had been an intermittent navigation problem experienced as Fossett was crossing the U.S.-Canada border.

During the flight, Fossett has been surviving on diet milkshakes — “low-residue” nourishment that cuts down on solid waste disposal needs during the flight, spokeswoman Lori Levin said. Fossett's flight suit is equipped with a collection bag and tubes to deal with nature's call.

As for sleep, Fossett has been taking 30-minute "power naps" during stretches of the flight, after passing control over to an autopilot system.

Fossett already is noted for being the first to fly solo around the globe in a balloon, a milestone achieved in 2002, and holds dozens of other aviation and sailing records.

Aviation pioneer Wiley Post made the first solo around-the-world trip in 1933, but he took more than seven days and stopped numerous times. Later, in-flight refueling enabled military planes to circumnavigate the globe without stopping.

The first nonstop global flight without refueling was made in 1986 by Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan, in the propeller-driven Voyager airplane. Dick Rutan's brother, Burt Rutan, is the designer of the GlobalFlyer and the Voyager as well as SpaceShipOne, which last year became the first privately developed craft to soar into outer space.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and MSNBC's Alan Boyle.

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