Saturday, April 28, 2007

Jonny and Dustin smahing records!!!

Audio Post

Flytec 2007 #13

This is a picture of Dustin and I after we landed 283miles or 456kms and 7hrs 30 mins later.

This is a google earth shot of our flight flying through Florida and almost all the way through Georgia landing about 18miles from South Carolina.

The Story...

Well after a long hard day before maybe my hardest ever competition task I wake up to great conditions. My head is sore my vision is fuzzy but I can still see that the windsock is standing out straight and there are clouds drifting past my trailer window.
I managed to talk Chris Smith AKA (Chopper) who I think must have also been half asleep at the time into driving for me, I told him it would be a long way because I did not plan on landing until after the 400km mark. Somehow he agreed so I raced upstairs to the Quest club house and found Dustin sitting on the computer and said yo Beatch lets go break a record.
He looked at me like I felt slow and not really interested, so as much as I did not want to go flying alone I walked away and said see you then. He quickly came running down the stairs and said okay okay wait for me I will be 10 minutes.

I slowly got ready but Dustin was far from ready with a flat radio no headset a nearly flat vario and little motivation. I now needed a tug pilot and I spotted Bo and asked him for a tow, of course he said yes and we were off. I tried waiting as long as I could for Dustin but from previous experiences I knew that records are made by getting in the air early and landing late. It was after 11am already and I was at least 1 hour late so I hooked up to the Dragon fly and Bo pulled me up to 2,000ft right above the airpark.

I found some light lift and decided just to drift with it downwind and this would give Dustin some time to catch me. I eventually hit cloud base at 3,300ft agl and I could see Dustin now being towed downwind towards my cloud. I headed off slightly crosswind for some clouds as it had started to blue up right downwind. As I looked downwind it did not look like a record day anymore and I was thinking that I should have taken off an hour earlier when the sky looked good. As I crossed the turnpike I start to get a little low and find some light lift and this will allow Dustin to catch up to me.

When we reached base we had to push a little crosswind to the west to avoid getting blown into the Ocala state forest. I was having troubles navigating because it looked like trees and swamp lands and little roads as far as the eye could see. I was now trying to remember what Davis had told me in my half asleep state about which path to follow so that we would not get stopped. Between the two of us we slowly figured it out and we were now passing by the Ocala state forest to the west side.

At this point Dustin and I are wing tip to wing tip gliding towards some more landable areas to the west again to avoid the swamp. We can now see two big lakes in front of us with swamp lands surrounding a huge area around them. We ask Chopper to call Davis and find out which side of these lakes we should be going so that we could continue. I am looking at my 76cs which luckily has the American base map on it to tell Chopper our position so that he could relay to Davis. It appears that we are on track even though it does not look inviting landing wise in front of us, so we keep going.

After going to 2 clouds that did not work we find ourselves heading downwind now off track towards another road that had some landings. I am now about 1,000 ft higher than Dustin and am just hoping that he finds a good thermal so that we don’t have to land in this area. Sure enough he glides into an area that had only one landing option and maybe the last choice at our altitude and hits a solid climb. This was quite a relief and now for the first time the sky was starting to look good.

We are only about 100kms out from Quest and it has taken nearly two hours so it was not really record conditions so far. Davis called Chopper and reported that we were actually off track to the east by about 15kms but we were heading towards the convergence and that we should keep going that way. So we keep going downwind for a little while before Dustin gets low again and is nearly forced to land on the edge of a swamp downhill. Somehow he gets to the tree line and hits another good thermal from low.

As we climb up we notice another large area of trees and swamp in front of us. Then we get another call from Davis to tell us that we were about to run into Jacksonville airspace. This meant that we had to now head straight crosswind for 20kms to get back on track and out of airspace. Down below us was finally a nice looking field and I told Dustin that this might be the end of our journey as we were going to have a hard time pushing west. This field was looking very inviting as we had flown about 150kms from quest and this was the first real landing field we had seen.

Dustin the smart boy he is convinced me that we should climb out to cloud base and then decide what we should do. I said okay and we topped out to about 6,000ft and decided we should try and head west as there were some more landings that way that looked good and with some luck we could get around the airspace and back on track. Dustin was gliding on my left and I saw him hit a strong climb and then I saw him getting thrown around like a rag doll. I decided after watching him nearly tumble that I might just skip that thermal and find another one. Dustin had the same thought and quickly escaped the turbulent air and was now tip to tip with me again.

After two thermals we had managed to make it to highway 301 just near a town called Starke 155kms from Quest. We now had the airspace some 30kms in front of us which we still needed to avoid. We just had to stay to the west of 301 and we would be out of airspace so our hard part was now over. I got a little jump on Dustin at this point and headed more west for some good looking clouds and this would ensure we cleared the restricted zone.

I did a long glide and got low at the 200km mark and was forced to take a light climb as there were not many landings in front of me and I needed to be high. Dustin was about 5-10kms behind me and this will be the first time we had not been in the same thermal for the last 175kms. A few minutes later Dustin comes in above me and we are back together again. We top out to 6,500ft and head downwind under a cloud street into Georgia.

Chopper is below us and is still trying to catch up with us however we have great looking clouds in front of us so he has his work cut out for him. Davis sends a report that the convergence is setting up to our east. I told Dustin that we should stay more to the west under the good streets and that the convergence would actually move inland towards us. I keep track of our average speed and notice that now we are making good ground and that the 205mile record was going to be easy to beat.
We continue to follow 301 to the north despite the slight crosswind and before we notice we are at the 260km mark. I said to Dustin who was about 20 meters off my tip that we had now flown just over half the distance of my record flight from home. It seemed like we had made so many decision to this point that we had been flying all day. I was dreaming of how nice it would be to have these conditions back home where you can just fly downwind and not worry about any landings. This conserves a lot more of your energy when are not constantly trying to make sure that you have landings or that you will not be stopped by trees or swamps.

Cloud base has now risen to 7,500ft and we have cloud streets as far as we can see. There is a big fire about 60kms to our west which is making our visibility worse. The wind is still south west at about 25kph so we are actually flying toward the smoke as we head north. As I look to my east I can still see the ocean and the see breeze approaching ever so slowly. I find this amazing that we have flown nearly 300kms with the ocean in eyesight nearly the whole way. It is at this point that Dustin’s 5030 will run out of batteries cause he did not charge it for a couple of days. This means I will have to stay below him and make sure he is in the lift so that he does not hold me back to much.

Dustin and I are now approaching Jesup the biggest town we have seen since we left Quest. We get Chopper to call Kevin the current record holder and as soon as he answer he puts the phone to the radio and I tell Kevin that Dustin and I are 7,500ft and just about to break his record. He did not sound impressed and then the phone call dropped and he never called back to our surprise. We were still following highway 301 toward the north heading for South Carolina.

We crossed over a paper mill factory and the air smelled so bad that we did not hang around for long. Dustin actually was right behind me on glide and came on the radio and asked me if I had just farted. I laughed to myself and said that is funny I was thinking the same thing. We were now approaching the see breeze clouds so we headed more west again to stay in the good air. It was hard to see as we were now in the smoky haze but there were a few clouds ahead.

All of a sudden we were in the convergence as we passed over the rigid wing record distance at 230 miles. Dustin and I were still tip to tip racing down the convergence line getting some amazing glides. At one point I noticed we had been flying for about 20kms reaching speeds of nearly 80kph and we had lost only 200ft. This would have to be the most amazing part of any record flight I have ever done. To me this section felt like conditions you would experience once in a lifetime with somebody else. Dustin and I were so close that I looked at him and I could see a grin from ear to ear despite the balaclava he was wearing.

Soon we ran into an overdeveloped sky and the sun had disappeared leaving us with shaded ground and no clouds. The only thing we had on our side was the line of smoke from the fire 150kms back that was showing us where the see breeze was. I now felt like I was flying at Lake Elsinore in the smoggy convergence line. We followed this for as long as we could then it disappeared on us.

Chopper had now finally caught up to us after 260 miles or 7 hours of driving and he really wanted to see us land. I could tell that he was excited for us despite thinking he was only going to drive about 20kms to the turnpike pick up a coffee and return to Quest. We were now on our final glide and I gave Chopper an estimation of where we would end up so he drove there and waited for us. Dustin and I were side by side as we did our last glide to the main road.

I knew the road was coming up by looking at my gps even though I could not see it. All of a sudden I saw the road and I told Chopper that I could see a tower on the road that had a flashing light on it. He came on the radio and said well I am sitting in the car right beside the tower which to me seemed amazing after the distance we had flown. I told him that I could see a nice field just down the road a couple of kilometers and that he should drive there to watch us land.

I saw him pull up and park then moments later Dustin and I come diving in. I said to Dustin on the radio lets do a wingover, you go to the right and I will go to the left. We crossed the road like it was a goal line and then pulled up into our wingovers. Just as I am going over the top I realize that we are going to be coming out of the wingovers heading toward each other. I think Dustin figured that out at the same time so we were both prepared and when we came out we quickly turned away from each other like a well planned routine. We both spot landed right next to the car just before 7pm and 283 miles (456kms) later.

Chopper was there to greet us with a bottle of water a big smile and most importantly the car. As soon as we got out of our harnesses Dustin and I expelled our last bit of energy and gave each other a couple of high fives before getting told to pack up by Chopper. We did pack up after catching our breath and before we knew it we were preparing for a 7 hour drive back to Quest.

This was Dustin longest flight by over 100kms despite several record attempts from Zapata over the last few years and surely one not to forget. This was my 6th flight over 400kms and I was 46kms short of my personal best distance. However I would say that this was by far my most memorable record flight to date and the memories will last forever.

I normally do all my record flights from home and will spend 10 hours flying alone over the Australian outback. This flight was so much different given the fact that I have never flown over any of the terrain or even looked at a map to study the area. I felt lost almost the whole flight and for sure the record would not have happened unless Dustin had decided to come with me.

The most amazing part of this whole flight was the fact that Dustin and I shared 52 out of 55 thermals together and glided side by side on nearly every glide. Getting to share the convergence at the end of the flight was a bonus and just made for memories that will last for a lifetime.

Special thanks to chopper for driving the whole way there and back and relaying the important information we needed to achieve this flight. This is usually a thankless job but none of you would be reading this story if it was not for him. Also I would like to thank Davis for his weather updates and guidance throughout the flight as this was also a major key factor to breaking the record. Last but not least Steve Kroop from Flytec USA for giving Dustin and I $250 dollars each for breaking the record using the best instruments well apart from not having one of them charged.