CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Aviation adventurer Steve Fossett shot down a three-mile runway in an experimental aircraft Wednesday and took off on an attempt to break the airplane flight distance record.
Fossett's glider-like, graphite airplane, with a 114-foot wingspan, lifted off from a runway at Kennedy Space Center normally used for space shuttle landings.
It hit two birds during takeoff but wasn't damaged, said Jim Ball, a NASA manager at the Kennedy Space Center. Once it was airborne, the plane's long, flexible wings lifted slightly upward.
"The roll was longer than we anticipated but that's why he wanted to use a 15,000-foot runway," Ball said.
Fossett's goal is a nearly 27,000-mile trip, once around the world and then across the Atlantic again, with a landing outside London. It is expected to take three and a half days.
If successful, the 3½-day trip would break the previous airplane record of 24,987 miles set in 1986 by the Voyager aircraft piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager, as well as the balloon record of 25,361 miles set by the Breitling Orbiter 3 in 1999.
"Mountain climbing was my original sport ... and I've never tired from the satisfaction of getting to the top of a mountain," Fossett said in a recent interview.
A fuel leak Tuesday in Fossett's experimental aircraft delayed his takeoff, but after a quick fix, the plane was ready to go again.
Shortly before 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, it became the first experimental airplane built by the private sector to take off from Cape Canaveral.
During his 80 hours in the air, Fossett will take power naps no longer than five minutes each and drink a steady diet of nutritious milkshakes. His plane is equipped with a parachute pack holding a one-man raft and a satellite rescue beacon, just in case.
Fossett already holds the record for flying solo around the globe in a balloon and for being the first person to circle the globe solo in a plane without stopping or refueling. That flight last year lasted 67 hours and also was hampered by a fuel leak.