We had some weather to contend with, but Weather-Man assured us that it would pass to achieve our flight. By 8 am, Dave Wert arrived and I finally got to meet him for the first time. He had been with us every step of the way and our success could only be attributed to his incredible knowledge and experience from a 40-year career with the National Weather Service. His analysis had been so incredibly accurate that had I been a little bolder in the first 2 days of the trip we could have been here in 6-7 days. I was proud to give him the 50xChallenge Pilot T-Shirt which he deserved more than I.
As usual, Dave did the weather briefing and set the plan. The rain we were currently experiencing would be over in an hour and we would easily be able to make the 50 mile trip to the beach in an hour. With the briefing done, Tom, Greg & Cynthia headed to the beach so they would be able to capture the moment I arrived. Dave agreed to stay back and help Ray get me airborne and experience firsthand what the rest of the team had done 21 times before.
I also received the good news that local News Station WJXT 4 would be there and Ripman (John Rippa) would be there in the air to escort me in.
The weather went through and at 9:30 am we set up and got ready for the final launch of the trip. GoPro’s running, strobe, radios. All set!
An easy launch, I took the time to look around before slowly making my way in the direction of the coast. It was going to take Ray at least 45 mins to an hour to reach the LZ so I could take my time and ‘sight see’. It was a little foggy and so I hugged the bottom of the clouds to find smooth air. Crossing the St Johns river I was now in striking distance.
Holding short, Ray and I kept communication open, and only once he let me know did I start to make my way to the beach from the north. (“oh, we forgot to put the wing strobes in – Doh”)
John Ripa had by now frozen his hands and decided to land so I would come in solo. Once Ray confirmed he was at the beach, I deployed the US Flag which I had kept a secret from the rest of the team and started my approach.
The winds were out of the North West blowing off-shore, which was a good thing. I could come in over the water and land into the shoreline. The tailwind pushed me and I quickly made it to the beach to see the small crowd that had gathered with members of the team and the press. Making a high pass I looked at the windsock and listened to the information from Ray before heading out over the water to make my base turn.
The large flag had a lot of drag and the anchor weight below was also a concern. Too low over the water and it could drag me in. Too high and I wouldn’t have enough beach to land on.
As I passed the hotel to my left the glider rocked left and right from the rotor rolling off the building and the sand dunes. As I got closer to landing, it didn’t feel right – I decided to go around. To those on the ground, it looked more like a fly-by, but to those in the know, I aborted the landing.
Little did I know at the time Cynthia was Live Streaming the whole thing and there was a large audience watching online. I’m glad I didn’t know, given I knew sticking the landing was necessary and I needed to make it look good.
Once again I came by over the water with enough glide to land on the beach downwind if I had to before once again made a base turn. This time opting to be a little higher and further out over the water to come in slightly crosswind and straighten out at the end to limit the effects of the rotor coming off the hotel.
This time my approach was perfect and a solid steady breeze felt good. I just needed to stay high enough to clear the water with the flag anchor, then slide in and stand it up. You’ll have to see the Documentary to see Greg’s capture, but if you watch the Live Feed Video you see that I pull it off.
Finishing up on the beach, The Team, Rippa, and Throttle Guy (Pierce Osborn Off-Grid-Aviation who provided the cruise control throttle) headed to a local restaurant to have brunch. Though we were all very pleased that we had succeeded, I don’t think it had begun to set in for any of us to absorb what we had achieved.
Tune in one Last time tomorrow for the last in this series for the account of the days after.