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GlobalFlyer Flight Uses NASA-Developed Technology
03.03.05
 
Nearly 70 years ago, Amelia Earhart bravely attempted to fly around the world. Following in her trail, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer experimental aircraft made its historic first solo non-stop non-refueled flight around Earth. And it made the record-setting flight with the aid of NASA technology.

Pilot Steve Fossett began his 25,000-mile flight from Salina Airport in Kansas, Earhart's home state, and landed safely Thursday at the same site.

NASA Acting Administrator Fred Gregory and Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Vic Lebacqz with Global Flyer Crew Chief Philip Grassa "We at NASA applaud private sector record-setting achievements like this one," said NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Readdy. "NASA is committed to increasing its engagement with entrepreneurs and industry alike in pursuit of the Vision for Space Exploration."

Image left: NASA Acting Administrator Fred Gregory, center, and Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Vic Lebacqz, left, joined GlobalFlyer Crew Chief Philip Grassa in Kansas for a close up look at the plane after its historic flight. Credit: Ken Peppard/FAA

The GlobalFlyer aircraft is a single-engine model designed for continuous circumnavigation by one pilot and no passengers. It weighs roughly 22,000 pounds when fully fueled and can exceed speeds of 285 miles per hour. The aircraft has a 114-foot wingspan and uses drag parachutes to slow down on final descent.

The record-setting flight tested NASA's advanced experimental Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) transceiver called the Low Power Transceiver (LPT). As a side benefit, the NASA device allowed GlobalFlyers's mission control to communicate with Fossett during almost three days of flight. NASA's Space Based Telemetry and Range Safety (STARS) project, based at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, worked on the video project. In addition, work was done at three other NASA facilities: Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.; and White Sands Test Facility, N.M.

After the successful flight, Richard Nelson, chief of NASA's Range Systems Design and Development Branch at Kennedy, said, "The technology did better than expected. It wasn't expected to last the entire duration of the flight, so it surpassed everything we had in mind."

NASA also loaned GlobalFlyer its Personal Cabin Pressure Monitor, which alerts a pilot of potentially dangerous or deteriorating cabin pressure. Because Fossett's cockpit was expected to be exceedingly loud, too loud for an alarm, the device was modified to vibrate to signal a problem.

STARS project hardware The Federation Aeronautique Internationale (The World Air Sports Federation) established rigid record-setting guidelines for the GlobalFlyer team. The rules insisted the aircraft must take off and land from the same airfield, cross all global meridians and 80 waypoints and go beyond 23,000 miles, which is the length of the imaginary Tropic of Cancer line. After landing, GPS records verified the requirements were met.

Image right: Space Based Telemetry and Range Safety (STARS) project hardware. Credit: NASA/KSC

GlobalFlyer followed the jet stream winds towards the United Kingdom and headed across the Mediterranean before turning toward Pakistan, India, China and Japan. The flight's final portion crossed the Pacific toward Hawaii before crossing America's West coast and returning to Kansas.

Waypoints on the flight included Montreal, London, Paris, Rome, Cairo, Bahrain, Karachi, Calcutta, Shanghai, Tokyo, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Fossett crossed major flight routes, so he was visible to some commercial airline passengers. The aircraft wasn't easily visible from the ground, but onlookers could see its condensation trail. And because of NASA's real-time video hookup, aviation enthusiasts around the globe were able to follow the landmark flight on TV and on the Web.

 
 
Jennifer Wolfinger
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center