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20,000 Miles Round The World Solo...

Virgin Atlantic's GlobalFlyer, the latest brainchild of the brainiacs at Scaled Composites, is just about ready for its round-the-world nonstop flight, with record-setter Steve Fossett in the pilot's seat. The aircraft is powered by a Williams International FJ44 engine and the 23,000-mile flight (give or take) is expected to last 70 hours (-ish) at about 52,000 feet (the math says an average of 285 knots). It will feed from 13 fuel tanks and use 18,000 pounds (give or take) of fuel. Takeoff (when the aircraft will weigh about 22,006 pounds -- including pilot) is set for Jan. 4 or soon thereafter, weather permitting. The craft will launch from a 12,300-foot runway at Salina, Kan., with Mission Control based at Kansas State University's College of Aviation, adjacent to the airport. Fossett said that launching from a central location rather than Mojave offers him a bit of extra safety margin. "If I run out of fuel in the last thousand miles, I will be able to glide to a safe landing in any airport in the Western USA," he said. "If I had chosen a West Coast airport, I would risk ditching in the Pacific if I run out of fuel near the end of the round-the-world flight." The Voyager aircraft, designed by Scaled CEO Burt Rutan, was the first to fly around the world without refueling in 1986, with a crew of two. That flight lasted nine days.