Steve Fossett piloted the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer to a smooth landing under sunny skies and calm winds in Salina, Kansas this afternoon, successfully completing his record-setting, non-stop, non-refueled circumnavigation of the globe in just over 67 hours. Concerns about lower than expected fuel supplies threatened to bring the mission to an early conclusion over Hawaii yesterday, but favorable winds and a true spirit of adventure brought home the prize.
I followed this mission on the Global Flyer team's website, which supplied continuously updated mission status and tracking information from departure to touchdown. Kudos to their Web team for a great job in making this possible.
Kudos also to MSNBC, who provided a live video feed of the last hour or so of the flight via MSN Video. As a pilot, I thoroughly enjoyed the live ATC (air traffic control) feed that accompanied the video, especially because it was provided without additional commentary of any kind. It was almost like being up there, sharing the airspace with the Global Flyer during the exciting final minutes.
At something like 16 miles out, Fossett called the field in sight, canceled IFR (his instrument flight plan) and requested a visual approach. As he was handed off from approach control to Salina tower, congratulations began to come in from other aircraft in the area who were on the same ATC frequency. "Congratulations from U.S. Airways," "Congratulations from American," "Congratulations from Southwest," "Congratulations from Cessna Aircraft," and so on. "Fossett, you're a stud," someone added.
As N277SF taxied to the ramp, a pair of giant checkered flags were brought out and waved to signal the finish. After some considerable jockeying around for the right parking position -- determined, I imagine, at least in part by where the media were set up -- engine shutdown occurred at 2:05 PM CST. The live video feed continued from near the nose of the aircraft, and I was struck by how small and confined the cockpit space Fossett occupied actually was. From the way it appeared, he must not have been able to move around much if at all for the entire duration of the flight.
This is an historic accomplishment for many reasons. Certainly it's a technological triumph and an aviation first, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it's mostly a human accomplishment, a testament to planning, perseverance, teamwork, dedication to purpose, and the power of the human spirit. Congratulations to all involved!