SALINA, Kan. — Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett decided Wednesday to press ahead with his attempt to fly around the world solo without refueling, continuing to head east over the Pacific Ocean while running lower than expected on fuel.
Fossett and his flight crew agreed early Wednesday afternoon to keep the GlobalFlyer headed toward Hawaii, rather than abandoning the record-setting attempt and turning back for a landing in Japan. Fossett and his team expect to decide by 8:40 p.m. CST, after reaching Hawaii, whether to press on to the U.S. mainland.
Fossett discovered a serious problem with the fuel system of his custom-built plane early Wednesday, forcing him to consider whether to abandon his quest to become the first person to fly solo nonstop around the world without refueling. The problem left Fossett short by about 2,600 pounds of fuel.
Shortly before 2 p.m. CST, Fossett was at just under 45,000 feet, heading nearly due east at about 400 mph.
"This is a huge setback," Fossett said earlier Wednesday after discovering the fuel-system problem, according to a statement issued by his mission control staff. "I have not that high a level of confidence at this point."
Project manager Paul Moore said fuel sensors in the GlobalFlyer's 13 tanks differ from readings of how quickly the plane's single jet engine was burning fuel. Moore said the crew had been forced to assume that 2,600 pounds of the original 18,100 pounds of fuel "disappeared" early in the flight.
It wasn't clear whether the problem was with the instruments that track how much fuel remains or if some fuel had been lost because of a leak, Fossett's team said.
Fossett, 60, still might be able to finish the flight on his original path, if a tail wind in the jet stream remains strong enough to push him across the Pacific.
"There are still significant hurdles to overcome — not least being the fact that the success of this flight is now down to the calculation of the winds," Fossett said.
Before the fuel problem was discovered, Fossett had estimated he would complete the 23,000-mile journey at midday Thursday. He already holds the record for flying solo around the globe in a balloon, as well as dozens of other aviation and sailing records.
The project is being financed by Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, a longtime friend and fellow adventurer.
Fossett is trying to break several aviation records, including the longest nonstop flight by a jet. That record is more than 12,000 miles, set by a B-52 bomber in 1962.
Aviation pioneer Wiley Post made the first solo around-the-world trip in 1933, but he took more than seven days and stopped numerous times. The first nonstop global flight without refueling was made in 1986 by Jeana Yeager and **I have a dirty mouth** Rutan, brother of GlobalFlyer designer Burt Rutan.
In 2002, Fossett became the first person to fly a balloon solo around the world.