Coast to Coast Day By Day – Day 6

Waking up to another cool but beautiful day we set about our respective usual tasks. Dave brought good news – we were now ahead of the worst of the weather having flown more than 307 miles on day 5.

Make Louisiana by end of the day

Our goal for day 6

Our goal for day 6 – Make Louisiana by the end of the day. It was going to be a busy, difficult day for everyone. I loaded up on pain and inflammatory medication for my knee injury sustained the day before. Tom and Cynthia headed to Ron at Lonestar Paramotor to pick up my spare frame and were hustling up a spare glider. Ray & Greg would have the difficult job to keep up on two-track roads while I was expected to maintain speeds in excess of 60 mph.

The launch went off without a hitch and I was soon on my way. The area would start to become more populated moving forward and so planning to hit airports became even more strategic. Calculations were about how much fuel we actually needed to reach the next point, rather than flying as long as possible until nearly out of fuel or having too much remaining that made landings more difficult with an injured knee.

My first stop was to Burnet Municipal Airport a mere 50-60 miles away. Ray arrived a few minutes after I landed and jumped the fence to find somebody who could provide a gate code to get in while I hobbled to the ramp. This time we loaded plenty of fuel and aimed to hit Coulter Airfield (CFD) about 100 miles away.

Huntsville Municipal Airport (UTS)

Getting great winds and good speed, I texted Ray as I neared the airport letting him know that I would push on to Huntsville Municipal Airport (UTS) another 50 miles away. By now we had enough information to know that I typically had a range of at least 100-120 miles on a full tank and with solid tailwinds could achieve 170-220 miles if my ground speed was 60mph or more.

It was around lunchtime when I arrived at Huntsville airport and Ray was at least 45 minutes away. I proceeded to the FBO and as I neared a Flight instructor her students met me at the door, very interested in my Paramotor and what I was doing. As with many aviators they were friendly and soon handed me a bottle of water after my bathroom break.

Wanda Collins, the CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) is also a Flight Examiner. Graciously, she offered me a Private Pilot examination without charge as her contribution to the Coast to Coast expedition. Something I hope to take her up on in the near future.

A short while later Ray and Greg arrived and quickly set about refueling and setting up to launch. Still limping pretty badly, no ibuprofen or food in the chase vehicle, I stood up and waited for the shifty wind cycle and monitored the rotor off the trees. I blew the first launch and we had to reset.

My risers were hooked in backward

Radio call to ray

Now with better wind, I was soon off the ground working to get into my seat. While doing so, I noticed that both my risers were hooked in backward. I Immediately radioed Ray. It took a few moments for Ray to understand what I was saying through the poor radio transmissions before he asked “Do you want to come back and land?” There was a pause…

Hurting pretty badly, I was cranky about the idea of having to return, let alone land on a full tank of gas. I knew it added another takeoff and landing for my beat-up knee as I assessed the situation further – I was flying, but could I trim out to reach max speed, and was it safe to do so. Reluctantly I thought better of it and returned and landed.

Ray set-out the Bench where I sat impatiently for the wing to be laid out. This time I would do the usual hook in the process – verify the riser was correct and flip it over for hook-in and watch Ray do it to verify. We exchanged apologies and went back and forth about who was at fault. Of course, it was mine as the Pilot in Command!

Ray is trying to understand my radio communication at Huntsville Airport.

Once hooked in, we waited on the next wind cycle and soon were successfully in the air and on heading.

This next leg would take me over a huge body of water and therefore climbing to a safe altitude for glide to the ground in the event of an engine out was critical. Originally I had planned to fly around Lake Livingston, but with the delay, I wanted to make up some time. The trouble was that I didn’t know exactly how wide the lake was to calculate the altitude needed and was still heavy on fuel for a long climb for the best tailwinds.

In the end, I hedged and flew slightly north of my route and pressed ahead trusting that my motor was reliable and was tuned to perfection from Ray’s hard work.

I set a course for Jasper County-Bell Airport and once again made great ground speed at altitudes above 8000 ft. Estimating that I would have enough fuel to make another 20 miles I pressed on to Newton Municipal (TNU). Here I circled for about 20 minutes burning off the last of my fuel waiting for Ray and Greg to arrive and guide them into the airport.

There wasn’t much sunlight left and we were just miles away from the Louisiana border. Could we make one more flight to any Louisiana airport and put Texas behind us?

So I started looking and came up with Beauregard Regional (DRI) about 25 miles away. Estimating about 45 mins of daylight remaining we hastily loaded a third of a tank of gas and shortly afterward I was in the air.

Crossing the state line into Louisiana, I remember breathing a sigh of relief that Texas was behind me. We once again were going to achieve more than 240 miles in a day.

Paramotor and chase equipment vehicle at sunset in Louisiana. WE MADE IT!

Suddenly, as I neared the airport, I could see two paramotors circling. Excited,, I wondered who they were. Knowing I didn’t have much time before the end of the 30-minute twilight I quickly landed.

Watch the Video

Who were the Pilots?

Shortly after landing one of the pilots landed in front of me and I quickly recognized the Blackhawk Pilot Mark Huneycutt. We high-fived and laughed about the ‘coincidence’ before Mark explained how it came together.

Mark and Alayna were watching my progress in real-time on the inReach website. Looking at my trajectory they assessed where they thought I was heading and decided they would meet me in the air. The story and the appreciation I have for them, wells up an enormous amount of emotion for me. I’ve been a fan of theirs for years and this was a huge honor.

Alayna didn’t land but headed back to their launch LZ and transport. With light diminishing quickly Mark soon launched and headed back with the plan to come back and get together.

Around 10 mins later Ray and Greg arrived and we soon loaded up and headed to meet with Mark & Alayna. In the meantime, there was no sign of Tom and Cynthia who had been delayed in Austin waiting for parts to arrive by FedEx. Waiting an additional 4 hours and still having about the same to reach us, they were now finally en route, but without the parts which didn’t arrive. But they did have a spare glider for me – courtesy of Chris Simmons(I think).

At a local Mexican restaurant, the margaritas flowed as did the stories and banter as we ate our meal. Tom and Cynthia finally arrived 2 hours later, tired and worn out over their long day which wasn’t over just yet.

Still limping badly and not knowing if I would walk in the morning we headed back to the airport. Given the parts hadn’t arrived and now not clear if they could be re-routed ahead of us, Ray worked on riveting an aluminum door strip to strengthen the paramotor frame to keep it flyable. The repair and black duct tape did the job and looked pretty good.

The rest of the crew set about their usual tasks as I got to bed quickly with 10mg Hydrocodone and Ibuprofen in the hope that I would be rested and be able to walk and launch in the morning.

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