Propeller Fixed, Voyager Takes Off Another Try
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) _ The experimental aircraft Voyager soared into the heavens Thursday, a day after it was forced to land during a test flight to determine if it can circle the globe without refueling.
After tests on the rear engine that failed seven hours after liftoff Wednesday, the spindly craft lifted off from a desert runway at midafternoon to again attempt a 4 1/2 -day mission over the sea.
″It will continue its 4 1/2 -day California coast flight,″ project spokeswoman Kelly Chandler said. ″Yesterday’s events in no way affect the schedule or professional optimism of Voyager.″
Dick Rutan and co-pilot Jeana Yeager, uninjured when they were forced to land the spindly craft, were optimistic that the flight could be completed and that they would be able to make a September non-stop global flight, she said.
Thursday night, program spokesman Peter Riva said the flight was running smoothly.
″It’s absolutely first-rate, no problems at all,″ he said. ″The crew says, ‘It’s go,’ with great enthusiasm.″
The crew had planned to fly repeatedly between Santa Barbara and San Francisco until a Sunday desert landing, but it appears the aircraft will land sometime Tuesday if all goes well, Ms. Chandler said.
Larry Caskey, mission operations director, said the current closed-course distance record of 12,532 miles without refueling would be broken on the final day of Voyager’s flight, if it succeeds.
The Voyager, which has undergone more than 130 hours of tests on 46 flights, is made of a strong but light graphite material called Magnamite. It weighs only 939 pounds before its 8,934 pounds of fuel are added.
The two-engine plane resembles three hot dogs speared by a skewer-like, 110-foot wing and cruises at a little more than 100 mph. Its builders have invested $1 million and more than 22,000 hours of labor in it.
The Voyager departed at 8:03 a.m. Wednesday from Mojave Airport, 70 miles north of Los Angeles, on its planned test. But its rear propeller motor failed, forcing it to land that afternoon at Vandenberg Air Force Base, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
″We didn’t feel in any dire emergency,″ Rutan said after bringing the plane down. ″It was just a matter of doing the proper procedure to save the airplane. We landed with plenty of safety margin.″
A chase plane will keep tabs on the Voyager and a ground crew, including a flight surgeon to keep watch on the pilots’ nutrition and health, will stay in radio contact.