Now with Florida just a few miles away, I knew so long as I didn’t make a mistake, we could make it. I know the day before I felt confident, but I didn’t want to let anyone know. Determined for the best time possible, I wanted to keep the team focused to get us there, this was after all a race.
The launch went off perfectly. Soon heading northwest and skirting the Class D airspace of Mobile airport, I communicated my position for surrounding air traffic on aviation radio.
The team scrambled and almost rear ended Dave Ruff in the rush to keep up.
The thing about Northern Florida is the high density of Aviation, especially Military aircraft with one MOA (Military Operational Area) after another. The planned route was like putting thread through a needle to squeeze my way as quietly as possible through the airspace. It was a Sunday too and I knew the morning would be quieter which allowed me to fly a straighter route, that otherwise would not have been as easy or allowed higher altitude if there were active military aviation operations.
136 miles later after a 2:25 minute flight I ‘landed’, well lost my footing and skidded to a halt. It was the first landing I hadn’t stuck on the trip.
What was routine now, a quick refuel stop and I was soon in the air on to the next location. I was once again making an excellent time averaging 65mph. Fortunately for Ray and Tom, they were now once again on I-10 and relatively easily kept up with similar speeds and distance.
As I pushed east past Tallahassee I was making exceptional time. Trying to outrun the weather front that was quickly coming in from the gulf, the east coast was now in sight. The flight lasted just over 2 hours covering 105 miles with a max ground speed of 73 mph.
Now just 138 miles from the coast the question became “Can I make the coast by nightfall” and, can I stay ahead of this weather to get there?
In the meantime, Cynthia was doing her best to get the press interested and involved to capture the moment that I would land and complete the fastest coast-to-coast crossing of the USA to set a record.
We agreed to change course to Keystone Heights (42J) an airport just south of the planned route but a shorter distance instead of going via Suwannee County airport, the home of Happy Thoughts PPG in Live Oak where I had flown before.
Due to the crosswind, it was a tight uphill launch across the runway and over the trees with little room for error. Successfully in the air again the race was once again on. Ray pushed quickly on the road, but I was in a race against the weather which was getting closer and dogging me every mile. Though I was faster than the moving weather I was heading south which wiped out the gains.
An hour passed and it was getting progressively bumpy making for an uncomfortable ride, but I pressed on as I looked at the clouds and monitored the radar on ForeFlight. The weather got ever closer and eventually, I was skirting the front of the squalls that were rolling through. Getting rained on heavily with a cloth wing had me nervous. Fortunately on one of my last training flights I had run into something similar and knew that if I couldn’t be above it I would have to fly the edge and try not to get ‘too wet’.
Finally, I got ahead of the squall and Keystone Airport was in sight. The team had arrived and were on the airfield assisted by the young lady at the front desk of the FBO. Also to my surprise, there were two other paramotor pilots who were in the air and turned out to be locals just out for the afternoon fun flight.
As usual, Ray gave me the lay of the airport over the radio with the wind direction. A short time later I was safely on the ground to cheers and smiles on the crew’s faces. 7 hours of air time, we had flown 383 miles and were just one flight away from completing our mission.
Though it was possible to make the coast, it was going to be tight and so why risk it. Additionally, now knowing we could virtually schedule our arrival to land on the beach, we could let the Paramotor Community and Press know an approximate landing time. The decision was clear and we opted to wait the night out.
As it turned out the Airport also had a small campsite. This would enable us to set up for a couple of days and have a place to leave the trailers for the short hop the next morning.
That night I took the team out for dinner and for the first time since leaving San Diego had an opportunity to breathe and take in the moment to absorb the accomplishment.