How Steve Fossett Flew Non-Stop Around The World On His Own Twice

Today we thought we would take a look at how American businessman and record-setting adventurer Steve Fossett managed to fly on his own around the world twice. Born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1944 and raised in Garden Grove, California, Fosset’s fascination with the outdoors and adventures began in the Boy Scouts when he was 12-years-old. Realizing that he did not have a natural ability for athletics or team sports, Fossett focused on activities that required persistence and endurance.

Steve Fossett's "Spirit of Freedom" balloon takes
Steve Fossett’s “Spirit of Freedom” balloon takes off on his round-the-world attempt: Getty Images

In 1966 Fossett graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics and then obtained his MBA from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. First working for IBM and then accounting firm Deloitte and Touche, Fosset became interested in financial markets, becoming a highly successful broker on the Chicago Commodity Exchange for Merril Lynch. After working for others for 15-years, Fossett started his own firm from which he made millions of dollars, renting out exchange memberships.

Now armed with the financial muscle to pursue his adventures, Fossett set out to become the first man to solo circumnavigate the globe in a ballon. After five failed attempts, Fossett did not give up and finally accomplished his dream in 2002 at the age of 58.

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It was Fossett’s sixth attempt

Fossett’s sixth attempt proved to be successful because he encountered favorable weather along the route and because he chose to attempt it in the Southern Hemisphere, where he would spend more time over sea than land. With winds sometimes propelling his balloon, the “Spirit of Freedom,” at speeds of more than 200 mph, Fossett made the circumnavigation of 19,263 miles in two weeks.

Fossett eventually landed his balloon in Queensland, Australia, and became the first man ever to fly solo around the world in any ariel vehicle. During the two-week flight, Fossett had oxygen canisters to breathe at high altitude, ate survival rations, and used a bucket as a toilet.

Steve Fossett
The “Spirit of Freedom” was sponsored by Bud Light beer. Photo: John Mathew Smith & via Wikipedia

Having accomplished the flight in a balloon, Fossett began planning how he could make the circumnavigation in a fixed-wing aircraft. Having successfully persuaded Budweiser to sponsor the “Spirt of Freedom,” Fosset looked for a backer for his fixed-wing attempt.

Always up for an adventure and never shy when it came to obtaining publicity, Virgin Atlantic owner Richard Branson stepped in to help finance a single jet-powered aircraft. It would be known as the “Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer.” Designed by retired American aerospace engineer and entrepreneur Burt Rutan, the aircraft would be constructed of lightweight composites and have a massive 114-foot (35m) wingspan.

GlobalFlyer took off from Kansas

After a spell of successful test flights over California’s Mojave Desert, the plane was moved to Salina Municipal Airport in Salina, Kansas. The decision to use Salina as a starting point for the record-breaking attempt was because the airport’s long 12,300 feet (3750m) runway had just been resurfaced.

To meet the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FIA) definition of a circumnavigation, the GlobalFlyer needed to circumnavigate the Tropic of Cancer’s length 36,787.559 kilometers (22,858.729 miles). For GlobalFlyer to accomplish this feat, favorable tailwinds were a must. Eventually, the conditions were right on February 8, 2005, and Fossett embarked upon what he hoped would become another world first.

The GlobalFlyer attempt was nearly aborted. Photo: Alan Radecki Akradecki via Wikipedia

Unknown to Fossett was a design flaw in the aircraft fuel venting system that resulted in the GlobalFlyer losing around 1,200 kg (2,600 lb) of fuel early in the flight. As the aircraft neared Japan, a decision had to be made whether to carry on or abort.

Fossett, always the great adventurer, decided to wait until the plane was approaching the Hawaiian Islands. Luckily the winds picked up, and it was determined to push on and get the GlobalFlyer back to Kansas.

Fossett disappeared in 2007

The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer landed at Salina Airport on the evening of March 3, 2005, after having spent two days, 19 hours, one minute, and 46 seconds flying 36,912 kilometers (22,936 miles) around the world, just 125 kilometers (78 miles) more than what was needed to claim the record.

In 2007, Steve Fosset took off from a Nevada ranch in a single-engine Super Decathlon light aircraft and was never seen again. Despite an extensive search, the wreckage of the experienced aviator’s plane was not found. A year later, a lone hiker stumbled upon the wreckage on a remote mountainside in northern California, ending the mystery surrounding the death of one of the world’s greatest adventures.

What do you think about Steve Fosset’s record-breaking flights, and do you have any thoughts on how a skilled aviator could just vanish? Please tell us what you think in the comments.