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The Virgin GlobalFlyer, piloted by Steve Fossett, successfully lifted off at 0500GMT this morning from Salina, Kansas. Fossett aims to make the first non-stop solo flight around the world without refuelling aboard the Burt Rutan-designed vehicle which took to the skies carrying four times its own weight in fuel.

The take-off was considered the most dangerous part of the mission due to the vast fuel load, but the BBC reports that Fossett successfully got off the ground before climbing to an initial altitude of 39,000ft (11.8km) in around two hours. Subsequently, GlobalFlyer continued to climb at just eight feet (2.4m) per minute en route to its cruising altitude of 49,000ft (15km).

Relieved sponsor Richard Branson described the take-off as "an emotional moment" and admitted to "enormous relief when it actually came off the ground". He has offered Fossett - his co-pilot in an ill-fated 1990s attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon - free Virgin Airways flights for life if he completes the mission. The attempt is expect to last around 80 hours. ®

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