Around the world. In 67 hours. On one tankful

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The Independent Online

With two shaky steps from the cockpit of his jet and a high-five salute to the sound of a Midwest marching band, the American billionaire Steve Fossett once more touched solid ground as the first person to have flown solo around the world non-stop.

The 60-year-old financier turned adventurer, who collects world records as others collect supermarket loyalty points, added his latest feat of endurance to his collection by touching down in Kansas after 67 hours, two minutes and 38 seconds in the air.

Cheered by a 10,000-strong crowd, Fossett returned in brilliant sunshine to the airstrip where his Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer jet, fully laden with four tons of fuel, had wobbled into the air in the gathering dusk and icy winds on Monday night.

The jubilant former options trader, who sustained himself on his epic journey with chocolate milk shakes and 18 minutes of sleep snatched in "power naps", said he had completed a lifetime ambition.

Standing in his dirty silver flight suit with the spray of a magnum of celebratory champagne dripping from his face, Fossett said: "That was something I had wanted to do for a long time. I am a really luck guy - I got to achieve my ambition."

The GlobalFlyer , financed to the tune of at least £1.5m by Sir Richard Branson, had spent its flight chasing night and day as Fossett flew a route across Canada, north Africa, the Middle East, south Asia and the Pacific.

The pilot, who declared he felt no need to sleep despite the rigours of his journey, said: "That was a really long day to fly around the world. I might have flown for three days but it was actually four nights."

As television cameras captured the final moments of the 22,900-mile journey to and from Salina, a town whose only previous claim to fame was as home to the world's largest frozen pizza factory, Fossett embraced his wife, Peggy, before declaring that he needed a "shower and a good dinner".

The 67-hour flight set three aviation records: the first and fastest solo circumnavigation unrefuelled and two records for distance without landing, almost doubling the previous 12,532 miles set by a B-52 bomber in 1962.

The feat brings to 65 the number of records in endurance and speed held by Fossett, who has spent the past decade testing his limits with feats such as swimming the Channel and driving Le Mans. Such is the billionaire's enthusiasm across five sports - sailing, ballooning, gliding, aviation and skiing - that he also holds the world record for holding world records.

Experts said that despite the aid of cutting-edge technology, the return of the GlobalFlyer entered Fossett into the annals of aviation history alongside Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927.

Dick Ionata, the assessor for the National Aeronautic Association, who confirmed Fossett's record shortly after landing, said: "This was the last great challenge in aviation. There have been periods when this record looked unassailable but now through technology and one man's physical effort it has been done."

The landing brought relief for Fossett's 45-strong ground crew, who had believed the record attempt was on the brink of failure after they found the GlobalFlyer had lost more than a ton of fuel.

Perhaps the greatest sense of relief was among Salina's community leaders, who spent£21,000 on facilities in the hope that the flight would win the town fame and fortune. Dina Horst, a teacher and councillor, said: "All we've been known for is making pizzas and lightbulbs. Now we have a reason to be known around the world."