November 24, 2004: Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer Testing

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  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The Air Force Flight Test Center supported a series of flights by the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer. The one-of-a-kind aircraft was designed by Burt Rutan and built by Scaled Composites of Mojave to make the first solo nonstop, non-refueled flight around the circumference of the world. The Center provided personnel, airspace and runway use for the twin-boom Flyer that was powered by a single Williams turbofan engine. The overloaded jet would require the length of the Edwards runway for a safe takeoff.

The Scaled Composites Model 311 Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer is an aircraft designed by Burt Rutan in which Steve Fossett first flew a solo nonstop airplane flight around the world in slightly more than 67 hours. The flight speed of 551 km/h set the world record for the fastest nonstop non-refueled circumnavigation, beating the mark set by the previous Rutan-designed Voyager aircraft at 9 days 3 minutes and a top speed of 196 km/h.  The aircraft was owned by the pilot Steve Fossett, sponsored by Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline, and built by Burt Rutan's company, Scaled Composites. The two companies subsequently worked together on Virgin Galactic.  Between February 8, 2006 and February 11, 2006, Fossett flew the GlobalFlyer for the longest aircraft flight distance in history: 25,766 miles.

The GlobalFlyer was specifically designed to make an uninterrupted (non-refueled) circumnavigation of the globe with a single pilot. Unusual for a modern civil aircraft, the GlobalFlyer has only a single jet engine.  Physically, the GlobalFlyer has twin tail booms mounted outboard of a shorter central fuselage nacelle. The pressurized cockpit is located in the front of the fuselage and provides 7 feet (2.1 m) of space in which the pilot sits. The single turbofan engine is mounted in an unusual position above the fuselage at a point several feet behind the cockpit, seen also on the Heinkel He 162 and Cirrus Vision SF50. The outboard booms contain large fuel tanks and end in tail surfaces, which are not cross-connected.   The aircraft is constructed of carbon fiber reinforced epoxy, the main structural member being a high-aspect-ratio single-spar wing of 114-foot span. The wings are made of high-strength composite materials with the skin of the aircraft being a graphite/epoxy and Aramid honeycomb. The use of lightweight materials permits the fuel (in 13 tanks) to compose 83 percent of the take-off weight.

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