The former Chicago stock trader and his ground crew arrived in western Australia last week with two tons of equipment for the 140-foot tall helium and hot-air balloon. Fossett hopes to launch the 550,000 cubic-foot "Bud Light Spirit of Freedom" on Friday or Saturday, weather permitting.
"The balloon will be inflated a couple of hours before launch and then a decision will be made based on world weather patterns," said Barry Tobias, spokesman for the mission control center at Washington University in St. Louis.
Project manager Tim Cole, who is heading the ground crew in Northham, Australia, 60 miles east of Perth, said all systems were ready for launch. Anheuser-Busch is putting up about $1 million of the $1.25 million Fossett said he would spend on his sixth try to accomplish one of aviation's most difficult feats. His first solo balloon flight five years ago cost around $250,000.
Asked whether the team would toast with beer rather than champagne if Fossett successfully completes the journey, Tobias said, "I'm sure there'll be plenty of it."
Fossett, 58, has attempted to the circle the earth five times previously, between 1996 and 2001. Violent storms forced him to land in Bage, Brazil, last August, 12 1/2 days and 14,235 miles after lifting off from Australia. The voyage set a record for the longest solo balloon flight ever.
Fossett hopes to fly the same route -- 18,000 miles to 21,000 miles mostly over oceans in the Southern Hemisphere in a flight -- that would take him over Australia, the South Pacific, Chile, Argentina, the South Atlantic, Africa and across the Indian Ocean landing back in Australia.
"We're looking for a fast jet stream over Australia, but low ground winds at the same time," Fossett said on his Web site, spiritoffreedom.com or budlight.com. "We've learned an enormous amount from my previous record flights and our balloon, fuel and navigation systems have undergone constant development."
In May, Fossett, an accomplished sailor, sailed a 38-foot catamaran from Marseille, France to Carthage, Tunisia, in 18 hours 46 minutes, setting a record for crossing the Mediterranean. His boat, Playstation, cut more than three hours off the previous record set in 1991.
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