Globe-Circling Aviators Expected Home By Dawn Tuesday
MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) _ Voyager flew into 15-knot head winds over the Pacific Ocean today as its two weary pilots, bruised and buffeted by turbulence, headed for early completion of their historic unrefueled global flight.
Voyager, expected to land about dawn Tuesday at Edwards Air Force Base, was hugging the Pacific Coast of Mexico as it flew northwest early today. As of 7 a.m. PST, it had traveled 23,237 miles with 1,876 miles to go, said spokeswoman Joan Richey.
The pilots have said they will not attempt a nighttime landing, and sunrise was about 7 a.m. Tuesday. Edwards Air Force Base will open its gates to the public at 1:30 a.m., and base spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry Guess said people will already be lined up waiting to get in and see the historic landing, much as they have for space shuttle landings.
The landing initially had been expected Wednesday afternoon, but beneficial tail winds advanced the schedule even as flight planners worried about erratic fuel consumption estimates and feared that head winds would erase the gains.
″The fuel looks all right, even with the headwinds, even if we push the power up,″ said mission spokesman Peter Riva. ″It looks like we have enough fuel when we get back to go on toward halfway across the Alantic from Mojave.″
Describing the conditions for pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, he said: ″You try living in something that’s basically the size of a bathtub and being shaken around and shook all the time, constantly undulating and constantly feeling that your space around you is moving. It is quite fatiguing.
″The noise level is about the same as a jackhammer going off next to your head,″ Riva said in an interview with NBC’s ″Today″ show.
Chief meteorologist Len Snellman said the 15-knot head winds, the first significant head winds of the journey, were expected all the way up the Pacific coast, but the turbulent air was a more immediate concern.
″The problem is that they are moderate to severely fatigued,″ Snellman told ABC television today, ″and so we may keep them high with higher head winds so that they will have less turbulence.″
The alternative was to fly at lower altitudes, with less head wind but more turbulence. ″Just talking to Dick (Rutan), he said, ‘I don’t want any more turbulence.’ But he’s going to have to suffer through,″ Snellman said.
″This was partly expected, but we were hoping Mother Nature would give us a little better deal than we have right now,″ the meteorologist said.
″It looks like Voyager will take about another roughly 30 hours to get home and we have roughly 60 hours of fuel on board, so fuel is not the problem,″ Snellman said.
Rutan, 48, was at the controls early today after resting for several hours while Ms. Yeager, 34, flew the plane.
Voyager’s exact position won’t be disclosed for the remainder of its flight because support crews want to discourage curious pilots from flying near the experimental craft, said project spokesman Bob Brubaker.
″From the performance standpoint, a head wind is just murder,″ said Burt Rutan, 43, designer of the Voyager and brother of Dick Rutan. A day of head wind will ″wipe out three full days of tail wind″ in fuel economy, he said.
Burt Rutan and Voyager’s technical team have been trying to determine how much fuel has been used since it became obvious that usage logs were in error. Twice the crew was able to draw fuel from tanks that should have been empty.
Rutan said Sunday he believes fuel has been flowing back through a gauge that measures fuel flow but can’t distinguish the direction of the flow.
Burt Rutan acknowledged some days in the past week he had been depressed because fuel reports indicated Voyager might not complete the mission, and that other days he was elated when the reports and analysis indicated otherwise.
He explained that much of the flip-flop was due to the difficulty of getting accurate information from the fatigued pilots.
″Sometimes when I talk to them it’s just like it was the first day ... their spirits are up. The data they are giving me is accurate... Other times when I talk to them they are extremely fatigued and they make mistakes on just routine things to read out,″ he said. ″At times we have gotten data that just doesn’t make any sense at all.″
Dr. George Jutila, the physician monitoring the pilots’ health, said he had ordered the crew to use oxygen. The Voyager had 3 1/2 days worth of oxygen and the pilots had not used it as much as the doctor wanted them to.
Jutia said he expected Dick Rutan and Yeager to be ″very, very sore″ when they land, after being bruised by turbulence and confined in the tiny crew cabin since Dec. 14. ″These people have been jostled and beat up. ... This is a monumental job,″ he said.
An unexpected storm that flipped Voyager on its side several times over the Atlantic late Saturday was the ″most dangerous″ turbulence the airplane had encountered, Burt Rutan said.
Dick Rutan agreed.
″I guess the most scary part is when we did wander into that thunderstorm cell and I could see the plane rolling,″ he said in a radio interview Sunday with CBS News.
Dealing with such weather was the most tiring part of the flight, Rutan said. ″The problem is that you spend hour after hour and sometimes all night long dealing with that kind of ‘Where is the next thunderstorm cell?’ and ‘Where are the clouds and the buildups?’
″That type of physical activity is quite fatiguing.″