On 8/25/95, I took my Flight Design A5 to fly the sight we call, Heber, (8600 ft MSL) in Utah. We got a late start, as usual, because I teach lessons until 11:00 am. My three flying buddies and I arrived at launch before noon and proceeded to check in with our local hangliding friends setting up on launch to hear what the cycles had felt like for the last hour. One of the “hangs” was a designated driver and said she would be happy to pick us up, “if you go big!” Jokingly, (while hoping it could be true), I said, “Ok! I’ll see you later today in Wyoming!”
The cycles were weak on launch but we were optimistic so I set up. I felt an urgency to get going quickly so I launched first and picked a cycle that just wasn’t working. Within two minutes I was trudging back up through the sage brush so that I could take another crack at it. I was still about 100 ft. below launch when the cycle started feeling VERY good so I laid my glider over some scrub oak and launched into a “great one”. As I passed launch on the elevator up, I yelled to my buds, “Hey, I think I found one!”
At 500 over, I was too far behind launch to go back and wait for them so I radioed that I’d meet them in Wyoming. (The next day I heard that the other paraglider pilots on launch never flew because it blew out just after I launched). Fifteen minutes later and 500 ft over the ground with my optimism deflated I radioed to the chase crew, “I may be landing near Hwy. 40 at Park City”. They answered, “ok, pick you up soon.”
I was in 600 ft. per minute sink with less than one minute to touch down when I suddenly hit a change that increased to 50 ft. per minute up for one minute. I then spent the next 12 minutes going back and forth between 600 down and 100 up, barely maintaining altitude. I thought, “This should be good if I can hang out long enough for it to build”. It did. A brief stint of 600 up to 9000 ft (3000 AGL) gave me some needed breathing room. Then 10 minutes of mostly 400 up brought me to 13,500 where I promptly got spanked hard, enduring a full frontal collapse, a 65 degree surge, and a 60% asymmetric within the space of 2 seconds. “Focus! Focus!” This took me from 1200 ft. per minute lift to 600 ft. per minute sink, (so the barograph print-out tells me). It scares the “peace” right out of me when that happens, even if there is 7000 ft. of air between me and the ground. The next half hour was spent in mostly sink, up to 700 ft per minute with small lift pockets of 200 or 300 ft..
Another 50 minutes between 9000 and 13,000 ft. took me just south of Coalville, UT where a great 10-minute thermal ride with 200 to 1620 ft per minute lift took me to my max altitude of 13,910 ft.
Later, flying almost directly over the mountains that separate 1-80 from Chaw Creek Rd. to the south, I radioed the chase crew that I was south of Coalville and losing altitude fast (800 down). At this point I was only receiving half of the chase crew’s communications (even though I had two radios) and was actually south of Evanston, Wyoming and east of the gas plant on Chaw Creek Rd.
Still going down at 150 ft over the ground, I was sending mind energy out pleading for (or at moments demanding) lift. As I “climbed” from 600 sink to 500 sink then 4, 3, 2, now hovering near “O” sink for a 1-o-n-g five minutes, the drift over the ground was taking me “where no one has gone before”. I was too low and my choices were to either take this lift or quit. “Oh well,” I thought, “I can safely land back in here. It will be a long walk out but… wait!…lift! glorious lift! Yes! Yes! Yes! Right up to 13,910 ft. How exhilarating!
“Hey, is that Coalville?” I ask myself. I look on the map that is strapped to my knee. “Let’s see, 3 exits off of I-80, …a large road that heads north, and …hmm that sure looks like Crawfords in the distance … Holy Shit! That’s Evanston, Wyoming!” I exclaim! I quickly radio the crew and say, “Hey you guys, this is Ken. I’m at 13,000 just east of Evanston, I’ll head east and try to stay near I-80”. That was the last transmission my chase crew heard. There were four pilots in the car on 1-80 just west of Evanston. They all looked at each other and said, “no way, he’s confused and hypoxic. He must be over Coalville. Let’s turn back and look for him along I-80.” So they left, never found me (of course) and went back home to Salt Lake City. Thanks buds, I appreciate the vote of confidence. For your own protection and reputations, I will refrain from naming the guilty. (smile)
South west of the intersection of 1-80 and 189 north to Kemmerer, I found a beautiful 500 up thermal that was broad and hard to miss. It was tracking directly up Hwy 189 toward Kemmerer at a great rate of speed. I spent 20 minutes in it and then I made my worst decision of the entire flight. I left this great thermal at 12,000 ft to buck the head winds trying to stay near 1-80. I could no longer reach my chase crew and my last transmission was that I would stay near I-80. I felt I should honor what I had said for their benefit. It was all-downhill from there. Tracking east I was finding thermal activity along the way but was unable to use it because it was tracking north at 20 to 30 miles per hour and by this time I was too far east of 189 and would be flying over a small road with no traffic or over a “no access” rangeland. I still believed I should be staying near I 80 so that my chase crew wouldn’t needlessly be looking for me. I even had a strong thermal wanting to drift me away from the highway as I was setting up to land. I ignored it! (silly but true) Moving backwards over the ground in a 25 mi./hour wind, it was a bit bumpy coming in and I was glad to be on the ground.
The flight was just over 3 hours, launching at 12:14 PM. and landing at 3:15 PM. 67 mi. (previous Utah records 42 mi.) averaging 22.3 mi./hour.
The treck home was almost as much of an adventure as the flight itself. Hitchhiking the 24-mi. back to Evanston took 2 1/2 hours. I waited for 1 1/2 hours for a bus that never arrived and then called a pilot friend who drove the 2 1/2 hours to pick me up. I arrived home 8 hours after landing. I hope to reverse those numbers next year flying for 8 and getting back home in 3.
I was so excited about this flight that I purchased a map in Evanston while waiting for the non-existent bus. Putting the Utah and Wyoming maps together it looked to be 85 mi. to the third exit east of Hwy. 189. When we got home my flying bud & I refigured it to be at 88 mi. I checked on the Topographical maps the next day and got 62 mi.. Calculating the distance with 8 different pilots I wrote in my log book that it should be somewhere between 62 and 90 mi.. Then I described the flight and landing area to a hangliding friend who said he had landed there a couple of years ago. Using the great circle distance method he calculated it to be 81 mi. He asked me to stop over some time and to point it out on the map for him, so he could calculate it more precisely. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing this – (mistake). I had no idea how to calculate great circle distances (which apparently takes into account the curvature of the planet) and was very happy to use my friend’s verbal calculations. I began telling people about my flight and that I had flown 81 miles!
Five months later with 3-D topographical maps, my friend calculated the flight to be 67.28 mi.. Tomorrow someone is going to tell me that a recent satellite photograph conclusively proves that the earth is flat after all and all distances must be recalculated according to the great flatness formula. Ha!
This was a great flight and I do have two regrets: Deciding to leave a great thermal and buck head winds with 2 hours more of flying time left in the day, and not getting the distance calculated more carefully right from the start. I must have been goofy on both accounts!
1995 was a good progressive cross country year for me, starting with 21 mi. (Heber), then 31 mi. (Chelan), 51 mi. Golden, BC and ending with 67 mi.. I hope we all start moving up to three digit flights next year.