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Fossett Flight Quest In Jeopardy

Adventurer Steve Fossett flew past the halfway point in his effort to break aviation's distance record, even as a fuel leak, soaring heat in the cockpit and weak winds jeopardized his quest.

Fossett reached Japan — the midway mark of his expected 3½-day trip — late Thursday and was flying in the Western Pacific jet streams early Friday. He faced severe turbulence over India in his lightweight experimental plane and other problems.

Fossett's team had calculated that he would have 500 pounds to 1,000 pounds of fuel left at the end of the 80-hour trip, but the loss of 750 pounds of fuel to a leak during takeoff at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday left no margin for error, the team said on Day 2 of the voyage. Mission managers also worried about weak winds over the Atlantic during the last leg of the trip.

"The fuel loss will diminish the total number of miles it is able to travel," mission control director Kevin Stass said in a statement.

Before takeoff, the spindly plane had more than 18,000 pounds of fuel.

In-Flight Interview
Steve Fossett talks to's Mike Wuebben from the cockpit of his global flyer about his quest to break the non-stop flight record.
Fossett's team could not pinpoint the cause of the leak. Fuel leaks had delayed his takeoff and plagued Fossett's successful flight last year when he became the first person to fly solo, nonstop around the world without refueling.

The plane's ventilation system also was malfunctioning, causing the temperatures to rise to as much as 130 degrees. Fossett was forced to drink a large part of his water supply earlier than planned because of the heat, the team said.

His goal is a nearly 27,000-mile trip — once around the world and then across the Atlantic again — with a landing Saturday outside London. The voyage would break the airplane distance record of 24,987 miles set in 1986 by the lightweight Voyager aircraft piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager, as well as the balloon record of 25,361 miles set by Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard in 1999.

He is using the same plane as he used in his record-making flight last year, the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, which has a 114-foot wing span, in his latest quest. It is made of carbon fiber and has a super fuel-efficient turbofan jet engine with a very high thrust-to-weight ratio.

Both ventures were financed by Virgin Atlantic Airways founder Richard Branson.

"This plane is hoping to fly further than any plane, any balloon, anything that's ever flown before," he said Monday.

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