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Fossett launches 3rd try at round-the-world balloon flight

Photo strip
After a final wave, Fossett and his balloon take off into the St. Louis sky
In this story: December 31, 1997
Web posted at: 7:36 p.m. EST (0036 GMT)

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- A "very nervous" Steve Fossett launched his 160-foot hot-air balloon Solo Spirit into a cold, blue late afternoon sky Wednesday in another attempt to become the first balloonist to circle the world without landing.

Fossett's silver balloon lifted out of Busch Stadium in St. Louis shortly after 5 p.m. and drifted eastward on the beginning of what he hopes will be a 15-day journey.

Fossett, a Chicago millionaire who is president of his own securities company, is one of five balloonists attempting to be the first to circle the globe. Two other teams are expected to launch their efforts soon. One of them, solo balloonist Kevin Uliassi, launched his balloon later Wednesday night from Loves Park, Illinois, although a few hours later a spokesman said a tear in Uliassi's balloon would force him to abort the flight within 24 hours.

Anheuser-Busch has offered a $1 million prize to the winner, half of which will be turned over to charity.

Responding to comments that he seemed to be relaxed shortly before lifting off, Fossett told CNN, "I'm not relaxed at all. This is a very nervous time. The launch poses a lot of risks ... a lot of things can go wrong.

"This is a dangerous endeavor, and I don't enjoy the danger. But I try to control the risks." He added, "I'll be much more relaxed when I get up to my flight altitude and I have all the equipment working."

A L S O :

Fossett's projected flight path

Aims for Portuguese coast in 3 days

Fossett did say, however, that things appeared to be working in his favor.

"I was afraid there was too much wind this afternoon," he said, "But, on cue, the wind died down and we were able to inflate the balloon."

In fact, the balloon was inflated ahead of schedule, and Fossett said the weather reports were also favorable.

"Our weather pattern, our trajectory across the Atlantic, is actually improved by launching earlier," he said. "I get into faster winds and arrive in Europe sooner."

Steve Fossett
icon  Steve Fossett discusses his latest attempt
"This is a great moment ..."
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    "It hasn't been done yet ..."
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    On Uliassi: "He's got me worried."
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    Watch the liftoff
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    Fossett lifts off

    Fossett told CNN he expects to reach the coast of Portugal in three days on a course that would carry him across Europe, Ukraine, China, the Pacific Ocean and over British Columbia before re-entering U.S. airspace.

    Earlier this year, Fossett ended his third round-the-world effort in a mustard field in India after six days in the air. He blamed the failure on not carrying enough propane fuel to allow the proper steering that is needed in altitude changes.

    This time, he said, his balloon is 28 percent bigger than the last one "and will allow me to carry half again as much propane."

    Fossett actually will be using two balloons. A small helium-filled balloon is wrapped under a tent, over the larger balloon, called the gas cell. He controls the balloon's altitude and direction by working a propane ethane burner.

    'The greatest unachieved goal in aviation'

    "You can't make any sharp turns with a balloon," he said. "To make a change of altitude to get a different wind direction, I might have to climb 3,000 feet to get only a 10 degree difference in direction."

    Fossett, who is paying for his $350,000 balloon himself, said that while he hopes to complete the flight in 15 days, he has enough food and fuel for 20 days "or 22 days if I stretch it."

    He said he was making another attempt "for a sense of personal achievement. This is ... perhaps the greatest unachieved goal in aviation."

    Despite the risks, Fossett said, "I'll be flying and I'll be having a happy new year."

    Asked if he was taking any champagne, he said, "This is flying. There will be no alcohol.

    "This is more like camping out," he said. "I'll be flying mostly at 24,000 feet. It will be about minus 30 degrees outside, and I'll have a cabin heater that will keep it about 50 degrees inside, and I'll (eat) boil-in-a-bag military meals. It's going to be a camp-out in the sky."


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