Fossett, Branson Plan Nonstop RTW Solo Flight

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OK, it was done already, 17 years ago in Voyager, with Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in the cockpit. But Steve Fossett wants to be the first to fly *solo* around the world nonstop and without refueling in an airplane. Richard Branson is serving as backup pilot, and Burt Rutan is designing the jet-powered, pressurized GlobalFlyer. The airplane will carry a single Williams FJ44-3 ATW engine, tweaked for this special application. The all-composite aircraft will travel at about 45,000 feet and reach speeds close to 300 mph. The trip is expected to launch from somewhere in the central U.S. sometime next year, and take about three days. In announcing the record attempt, Branson took the opportunity to blast British Airways (BA) for retiring the Concorde -- and turning down his offer to buy the fleet. "At a time when BA is retiring the greatest achievement in aviation of the last century, it is fitting that Virgin Atlantic should unveil a plane which is designed to make the first great aviation achievement of this century. Like Concorde, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer will be a sleek and slim aircraft but will be super-fuel-efficient." Branson also said the attempt will have some practical benefit: "The manufacturers of the plane and the engine will generate unique data on improving future aircraft efficiency, which will help develop a new generation of more fuel-efficient commercial aircraft." Fossett completed the first solo balloon circumnavigation last year.