ORLANDO, Fla., July 11 (UPI) -- A team of aviators including retired astronaut Terry Virts landed at Kennedy Space Center Thursday morning, claiming to have set three global flying records for circling the Earth over the North and South poles.
The mission, called One More Orbit, touched down in Florida at 8:12 a.m. EDT, hours ahead of its tentative schedule. Its recorded flight time was 46 hours, 39 minutes, 38 seconds. The average speed was clocked at 534 mph.
That would break the official record for average speed of 511 mph set in 2008, and for total minimum time of just over 54 hours. According to One More Orbit, a third record was set because two women on board, film director Jannicke Mikkelsen and flight attendant Magdalena Starowicz, are apparently the first women to complete a polar circumnavigation of the world.
Officials from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (World Air Sports Federation) and Guinness World Records are in Florida to verify the records.
The flight came in the 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and on the 500th anniversary year since Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set sail on the first maritime trip around the globe.
Mission captain Hamish Harding told UPI of a harrowing crisis over the South Pole on Wednesday as the plane suddenly encountered air temperature far below its design threshold. Harding was at the controls.
The jet crossed over the pole at just below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or -18 Celsius, flying at over 40,000 feet high. In an instant, Harding said, the temperature plummeted to -117 Fahrenheit, or -83 Celsius.
"It was very extreme weather, far beyond what we anticipated," Harding said. "I had to dive immediately, thousands of feet, to get to warmer air."
As the plane landed Thursday morning, Virts tweeted, "Congrats to the entire team of #OneMoreOrbit on completing this Round-the-World flight via both poles!"
Also among the pilots on the mission was cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. They took turns sleeping, piloting the jet and performing many tasks required to verify the record, Virts said.
Virts credited NASA and Space Florida, the state's marketing and economic development agency for space, for supporting the mission.
"NASA has allowed us to use the shuttle landing facility. Space Florida has done a huge amount of work to help. Inmarsat has made communication from possible for most of the trip," Virst said.
The jet is from Qatar Executive, a division of Qatar Airways.
"We were happy to have Qatar Airways behind us and they have numerous people around the world to support us," Hamish said.
Hamish and Virts praised the three airports where 30- to 45-minute stops were made to refuel -- in Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Chile.
"We're approaching much faster than anyone else, obviously," Hamish said. "So others must all be cleared out of our way. Fortunately, air traffic controllers love to see this kind of mission, and they were all supportive."
The jet, a Gulfstream G650ER, can travel at just a few clicks under the speed of sound. Faster, supersonic executive jets are planned by several companies, but Hamish said they won't have the same range as the G650ER. So he hopes the record is verified and stands for a long time.
Virts is making a documentary video of the flight, tying it to the history of the space program and comparing his orbits in space to the flight.