2:44 minutes later and nearly 90 miles I reached Fort Stockton. I was cold and sore so Ray hustled me into the equipment trailer and cranked up the heat. Spotting Ray’s homemade beef jerky I began gnawing on a stick and removed my boots to thaw my toes.
Twenty minutes later, somewhat defrosted with a protein bar and water we walked our way over to the FBO to meet a few local pilots that Ray had talked to upon arriving at the airport.
Over a warm cup of coffee, we exchanged stories. More importantly, I got local advice about the weather conditions, and feedback about our planned route and other airports within range. Armed with the additional information and 800 mg of Ibuprofen, it was time to get going since we were burning daylight and had to make up for the last day.
Switching back to the Dudek Hadron 3, with the lighter winds and a smooth reverse launch, I was soon on my way towards an airport about 120 miles away.
As I climbed there was a notable cloud bank ahead around 6600 feet. The experience I gained from a training flight several weeks earlier made me quickly realize – I needed to climb – and get over it before being trapped below its unstable bumpy air.
Squeezing the throttle and with the extra thrust from the new prop, I quickly climbed to 10,000 before setting the Cruise Control for a slight climb.
It had noticeably got colder as I climbed 6000-10,000 ft. Not only was my knee aching, but now my feet were beginning to freeze. For now, my hands were warm from the heated gloves, but how long would the batteries last, and would my electronic equipment keep working given I had previously experienced an iPad shutting down from cold temperatures. Would the chemical hand warmers be enough?
Another hour passed and I was notably shivering constantly. But I still had fuel and I was determined to keep going as far as I could. I was making better-range too traveling over 60 mph. After assessing the situation I sent texts to Ray asking him to proceed on to the next airstrip I had along my route intended as a checkpoint or ‘out’ if needed.
Hoping I wouldn’t get into trouble for landing at the private airstrip without permission, and now low on fuel, I began a slow descent. I could probably have glided another 10 miles but didn’t have an LZ that I thought could work and I didn’t fancy landing in the sharp vegetation or crosswind on the highway!
Another hour passed and I continued to shiver uncontrollably in my seat, but 173 miles after launching I reached the airstrip and was eager to land. I needed to pee, badly! As usual with late afternoon landings, it was bumpy and an uncomfortable descent.
As was the norm by now, when Ray was able to keep up, he put up a Wind Sock and talked me in over the radio. I decided I could land in a grassy area closer to the road instead of the airstrip since the gate was locked and it was going to be a challenge for the crew to hump the fuel.
Now shaking uncontrollably it was clear that I was hypothermic and struggling to talk clearly, Ray rushed me into the trailer as soon as I finished watering the tree. The heat once again cranked up, Ray quickly boiled some water and made me a hot chocolate which I held in my hands to warm them up between sips.
I don’t remember all the details, but I remember my phone ringing and think it was Mike Robinson checking in on me. In no condition to talk with anyone, Ray took the call. I then learned that Ray, Greg, and Dave Wert had been on the phone discussing my progress during the flight and the concern over the cold temperatures.
As it turned out, it had been 17° Fahrenheit. I’m told that Dave had raised real concern and was astounded that not only was I flying in this temperature but also that my flight had lasted 3:35 mins.
Looking back, I know it had been difficult but I was so focused and determined. Had I found an LZ another 10 miles further, I would have kept going.
Twenty minutes or so later I finally stopped shivering and began assessing with Ray how much further we could go before sunset. We quickly settled on an airport 54 miles away with the expectation I could get there in a little over an hour. We also decided this would be a lower flight where it was still reasonably warm and somewhere above the thermals popping off the ground.
This was a tight LZ and there was more grass than I would have liked, but we laid the wing out and aimed to make the best of it.
Ray positioned himself and talked to me over the radio keeping an eye out for how the wing was coming up. Most people weren’t aware of this, but while my military helicopter helmet looked great and did provide good protection from the wind and glare of the sun, my peripheral vision was restricted which made it very difficult to see the glider as it came up.
Deciding to throttle up to help push me in the long grass I lurched forward and with the slight crosswind the glider came up sideways before the dreaded sound Paramotor pilots fear – the prop struck the glider lines.
In my haste to get going, I hadn’t thought about compensating for the damaged hoop which was now more than an inch compressed in from the damage it sustained in the two previous incidents. Upon inspection of the glider, we found at least two A-lines that were totally severed.
Seeing the damage to the lines and realizing we weren’t going to be able to repair them I barked at Tom to go grab my Snake which I had flown that morning.
I was furious at myself because I knew we didn’t have spare lines for the glider though I had tried to secure a spare set from Paradrenalin when they sent me the sponsored wing. I also had not secured the materials that Leah Catullo had recommended I have to make line repairs. My attempt to secure a second Hadron 3 had also failed and now unless we found a way to get lines or another glider, I had only the Dudek Snake 1.2, and a damaged frame at least a day away from having new parts.
After setting out the wing and Ray once again coaching my control of the wing that I couldn’t really see, I quickly launched and cleared the trees & power lines, before making my turn east.
Airborne and climbing my brain switched back to the problem to solve with the Hadron 3. Ray and I exchanged radio messages suggesting to reach out to Ron at Lonestar Paramotor where Blackhawk Paramotors had shipped my hoop. Simultaneously Greg reached out to the Paramotor community groups on Facebook. We then dropped a call to Shannon Micheals at Four Winds PPG letting her know we would urgently need some lines made once we landed and assessed the glider.
The flight went off without a hitch and 1:22 later I arrived at Mason County Airport (T92) just as the sun was setting and landed safely with Ray talking me in.
Ray and I spent about half an hour carefully inspecting every line on the Hadron 3 wing and checking the wing itself making notes about which lines required replacing. Fortunately only the two A-lines on the left side were totally chopped and one other line had become unsheathed. A short while later we called the order in to Shannon before spending time working out where ahead of us they could be sent.
The evening followed what had become a common pattern each night; Cynthia and I cooking dinner, Greg editing, Tom charging equipment and backing up flight recorder information, and Ray doing what he does best… Fixing Harley’s screw-ups!