Archive for Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Student soaring after record-breaking flight

February 22, 2006

Nancy Milleret's sights are expanding.

Since she was 8 years old, Milleret knew she wanted to be a jet pilot. Now, she says, it's possible her dreams could take her higher -- into space as an astronaut.

Milleret, who was Tonganoxie High School's 2002 valedictorian, is a senior at Kansas State University's College of Technology and Aviation in Salina.

Earlier this month, Milleret flew to England where she worked in Misson Control while millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett broke records in a 26,389-mile flight in 76 hours, 45 minutes.

This is the second year Milleret, who is the daughter of Mark and Melinda Milleret, Linwood, has helped with Fossett's flights. In 2005, she was among K-State students selected to man Mission Control in Salina during Fossett's record-breaking solo non-stop around-the-world airplane flight.

Fossett took off Feb. 8 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, planning to land at England's Kent International Airport, where Milleret and other team members were headquartered.

However, Fossett and his Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer were forced to make a slightly earlier landing.

"His generator failed, and he was losing electrical power, which would have taken away his GPS, his navigational systems, his communications," Milleret said. "It wouldn't have failed the engine -- he would have been able to fly, but not navigate."

So Fossett landed at Bournemouth International Airport, about 20 minutes shy of Kent. Despite the early touchdown, he set a world record for the longest distance non-stop, non-refueled flight.

And Milleret played an integral role.

A higher vision

While Milleret has said she's interested in becoming a corporate pilot, she's now thinking about soaring higher.

In 2008, Milleret said, the Virgin Galactic, a space ship designed to take tourists into space, is scheduled to take its first flight.

Because, Milleret quipped, she wouldn't have the $100,000 estimated ticket price, she'll have to find another way to catch a ride on the spaceship -- possibly as an astronaut.

In the past, she said, she'd dreamed about being a NASA astronaut, but she's not interested in joining the military.

"A lot of the pilots who are astronauts started off in the military, and I don't want to go through the military," Milleret said. "I never thought that there would be a commercial industry -- that was something that I'd never thought of."

Right now, she's waiting to learn more about the Virgin Galactic and the doors it could open for pilots.

"I'd need a lot more experience before I could do that," Milleret said. "They'll be looking for pilots who have time in larger aircrafts. If I still want to (pilot a spaceship), when I'm ready, they'll probably have things figured out by then. Now, so many people are unsure about it."

Relief at the finish

Milleret had known for months that she'd be helping with Fossett's most recent flight. But because the flight's start depended on weather conditions, she didn't know when it would be.

On Feb. 3, she received a phone call. And the next day Milleret -- and two other K-State students -- boarded Fossett's Citation X in Salina and were flown to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

What she saw impressed her.

"The whole complex -- highways, buildings -- it's all private," Milleret said. "I just couldn't believe how big it was."

In Florida, she helped enter Fossett's flight plan, which later had to be altered because of wind and weather changes, into the Global Positioning System. And Milleret assisted in gaining last-minute security clearances for different countries.

The preparation included an evening out, with Fossett taking the crew to dinner.

Milleret and her schoolmates arrived in London on Feb. 6, thinking that Fossett would take off from Florida the next day.

But after a fuel leak aborted the flight, it was rescheduled for Feb. 8.

From then on, it was hard work.

"We started off working 16 hours or 18 hours at a time," Milleret said. "As we got toward the end, it started to go to 12 hours."

While the work was similar to what she did during Fossett's earlier record-breaker, Milleret said the Mission Control crew was smaller.

"So we had to work longer hours and had more responsibility," Milleret said.

And, she said, the landing itself was different from last year's.

"He was flying through some clouds during cold weather which creates icing," Milleret said. "He wasn't able to see out of his windshield very well. His tires blew out when he landed. Just all in all, it was mostly a relief that he made it safely."

Milleret said her experiences as a member of Fossett's navigation team were valuable on many levels.

"A lot of what I take from it is networking with other people in the aviation industry," Milleret said. "This year, because it was with NASA, I have some contacts with NASA. And I've met an astronaut, Bill Readdy, who flew on three missions. That's a big part of aviation, just getting to know people and getting your name out there."

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