March 8, 2005 -- Steve Fossett became the first solo pilot to complete a non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world last week, clocking back into his starting point in Salina, Kansas, at 1:48 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, 2005.
Getting the Global Flyer, his plane, around the world took Fossett 67 hours from take-off to landing. He endured a mid-flight fuel leak and sleep deprivation on the flight. The company responsible for the Global Flyer's single engine design, and the manufacture of its composite materials, was privately-held Mojave company Scaled Composites.
Eight months ago, Scaled Composites' aircraft, SpaceShipOne, manned by Brian Binnie, won the the $10 million Ansari X-Prize, a grant given by author Tom Clancy, Charles Lindbergh heir Erik Lindbergh, and billionaire Dennis Tito. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was SpaceShipOne's primary backer.
After winning the X-prize, Scaled Composites' CEO Burt Rutan sold a license for his company's SpaceShipOne technology to the Virgin Group, headed up by rebel billionaire, TV-star, and entrepreneur Richard Branson. The entertainment and travel mogul appeared in a Super Bowl TV commercial promoting Volvo and Virgin Galactic -- the world's first commercial space tourism operator this past February.
Virgin Galactic will make astronauts out of jet setters in the year 2007, but it is already selling tickets to space at $190,000 a pop. Branson also sponsored the Global Flyer adventure, viewing Fossett's flight details at mission control in Kansas, and greeting the weary pilot at the end of his record-breaking flight with a glass of champagne.