Scaled Composites’ GlobalFlyer ready
for Virgin Atlantic’s ultimate flight.
Craig Covault / Kennedy Space Center
T HE SCALED COMPOSITES/VIRGIN ATLANTIC GLOBALFLYER AIRCRAFT AND PILOT STEVE FOSSET ARE POISED FOR A DAWN TAKEOFF FROM THE SPACE SHUTTLE RUNWAY HERE IN A HIGH-RISK BID TO ECLIPSE THE BREITLING BALLOON AND VOYAGER AIRCRAFT WORLD ABSOLUTE DISTANCE FLIGHT RE-CORD .
The goal is for the GlobalFlyer to circle the globe, then cross the Atlantic a second time to set a new un-refueled distance record of more than 26,000 mi. The attempt is scheduled to begin as early as Feb. 1-3, 2006.
During a planned 80-hr. flight, Fossett is to head east across the Atlantic, circumnavigate the globe, then overfly the Kennedy area from the west before heading out over the Atlantic again toward a planned landing at Kent International Airport near London.
If successful on the second Atlantic crossing, the aircraft should still have the fuel to fly about 1,000 mi. farther, theoretically allowing flight well into Europe for an even stronger distance showing. But while that would shatter the record books re-garding the aircraft’s ultimate capabilities—it would also shatter Virgin Atlantic’s British marketing plan for a grand entrance near London.
MISSION CONTROL for the flight will be south of London at the Crawley, Sussex, headquarters for Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson.
“We’re excited to be able to partner with NASA on this attempt as it is a perfect combination of innovation and aspiration,” says Branson.
The 15,000 X 300-ft. Kennedy shuttle runway, one of the world’s longest and widest concrete strips, was specifically selected because it is especially well-positioned to support what Virgin Atlantic calls the ~~ultimate flight.” Kennedy was chosen not only to provide a safe takeoff, but also because it fits with GlobalFlyer range requirements for a Kent landing and an emergency return base either at the start of the trip, or short of the second Atlantic transit.
The endeavor is also a shakedown of Florida Space Authority (FSA) and Kennedy Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) site and personnel to support more air-craft flight test or innovative commercial operations following the shuttle phase-out in 2010. “It is about a whole new way of doing business,” says FSA Director Winston Scott, who is a retired U.S. Navy captain and former astronaut. The GlobalFlyer has been housed in the FSA hanger for final preparations.
Given this is a test even for NASA, the agency will charge Virgin Atlantic only a few thousand dollars for incidental expenses, says Jim Ball, head of Kennedy bus-iness development. But Zero-G Corp. is ready to lease the SLF for regular commercial zero-g flights with its Boeing 727, Ball says. Center Director Jim Kennedy and other managers hope the initial Virgin and Zero-G projects will spur eventual suborbital commercial flight test and passenger operations here. Florida is readying several million dollars in incentives to this end.
After three weeks of preparation here, the Virgin Atlantic team is ready to go, but awaiting dawn temperatures no greater than 51F with proper surface and winds- aloft conditions. The final several thousand pounds of more than 18,000 lb. of JP-4 will not be loaded until the aircraft has been towed to the end of the shuttle runway.
The first 3-4 hr. after takeoff eastbound over the Atlantic will also serve as a carefully documented flight test to validate modifications ensuring remedy of a serious fuel-siphoning characteristic on the initial 2005 GlobalFlyer world flight. The real problem occurred only during climb-out with a full 9-ton fuel load
Maximum GlobalFlyer gross weight takeoffs of nearly 22,000 lb. are so potentially hazardous that the team dropped an initial plan to test siphoning-related tank vent changes when Fossett ferried the 114-ft.-wingspan aircraft here Jan. 12, 2006, from Sauna, Kan. “We decided it was a little too risky to expose ourselves to an additional full weight takeoff, so the plan now is to treat the record flight as also a test flight,” says Jon Karkow, GlobalFlyer chief engineer and test pilot.
Fossett told Aviation Week & Space Technology that even without full fuel there were significant fuel measurement discrepancies during the 4-hr. ferry from Salina with a moderate load. “We had discrepancies between three sources of fuel measurement,” Fossett says. The methods include fuel probes in five of 13 tanks, along with direct data comparisons with the original load and a totalizer that measures the fuel that has passed through the aircraft’s 2,300-lb.-thrust Williams FJ44 engine. “Hopefully it is not a reoccurrence of the same problem I had last year.”
THE PRIMARY SOURCE of fuel quantity data is the fuel probes with coarse backup by estimating gross weight from the relationship between airspeed, angle- of-attack and trim setting. Comparing tank quantity with fuel used from the engine totalizer can find leaks.
During Fossett’s March 2005 initial circumnavigation from Sauna, the aircraft’s vent configuration mysteriously siphoned 3,100 lb. of fuel overboard threatening that record attempt. But he was able to complete the circuit in 67 hr. even without the extra 1.5 tons of fuel. This gave his Virgin Atlantic team hope that, with the fuel problem resolved, he could go 3,000 mi. farther than his first global flight to now break the 1986 Voyager aircraft and 1999 Breitling balloon absolute distance records.
Although Fossett was not happy about it at the time, Karkow said the ferry flight discrepancies were caused by an intermittent glitch in the calculation of the totalized fuel usage of the individual boom tanks. “It happens every few flights. We don’t use those data for anything,” he adds. “The main fuel totalizer display on the electronic flight information system normally works fine. But we don’t rely on the dis-play of individual boom usage, since it does not reflect fuel lost due to leakage, venting or evaporation.” “With the flight test approach to the start of the record flight, if we do lose fuel as we did the last time, we would abort and turn around over the Atlantic to come back and land at Kennedy the same day we take off,” Kar -kow says.
With the aircraft light, rotation and climb-out are at about 100 kt. But the Global-Flyer takeoff here is going to be much different than the earlier maximum gross weight takeoff at Salina for the initial world attempt, Karkow notes.
The Salina takeoff run was into an 11- kt. headwind and with temperatures much cooler than the upper 40s-50F expected here. Minimal headwinds are expected at Kennedy. “We are not going to simply do the same takeoff that we did last time, we are actually going to expand the speed envelope here,” Karkow says. “That now means we will be rolling on the ground up to about 12 kt. faster and for about 10 sec. longer here than at Salina. So we are expanding the envelope.” The rotation and climbout speed will be based on actual temperatures on the day of the flight.
The aircraft will cruise at just over 250 kt. at about 45,000 ft. With the help of his Mission Control team, headed by Kevin Stass, Fossett will try and stay within the most favorable winds aloft. Last year’s flight of 22,928 mi. in 67 hr. set the solo nonstop around-the-world record.
But in 1986, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager spent nine days aloft in the propeller- driven Scaled Composites Voyager, flying 24,987 mi. around the world on a different course to set the record for the longest unrefueled powered aircraft flight in history. The longest flight record for any kind of piloted atmospheric craft is 25,361 mi. set by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon in 1999.
Fossett aims to break the Voyager record by 1,097 mi. and outdistance the longer Breitling record by 723 mi. In doing so, he would also extend the GlobalFlyer’s record to 26,084 1111. That will be an increase of 3,156 mi. and an additional 13 hr. of largely sleepless hours in the air for Fossett.
All of the aircraft’s systems have alarms to prevent Fossett from falling asleep for long periods. He is practiced at largely sleepless long-distance flying and will take periodic 5-mm. naps. As in the past, he will take what he calls “simulated rest” where he becomes motionless and effectively relaxes without sleeping, further negating the need fo r real sleep.
Preflight, he is following a regime of low-residue foods, such as eggs, to negate the need for bowel movements during nearly 3.5 days aloft. Inflight he will drink low- residue, high-energy, pre-packaged milkshakes.
Fosset’s route from Kennedy will vary with winds aloft, but he will first cross-central Africa. to the Middle East. traverse Saudi Arabia, central India, then head northeast up south central China, across Southern Japan, and over the Pacific at about 40 deg. W. Lat. to the Southern Baja and across central Mexico. He will then angle over the U.S. Gulf Coast, past New Orleans, overfly the Kennedy Space Center again, then angle northeast just off St. John’s, Newfoundland, be-fore crossing the Atlantic to southern Ireland and into Kent, England.
If he pulls all that off, the next stop will be the history books—and for Global-Flyer, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. D.C.
AVIATION WEEK & SPACE TECHNOLOGY
January 30, 2006. (Pgs. 38-39)
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