We left Johns house at 10:30am and arrived at the Salton Sea 4:45am. Unlike previous years we had chosen to “Power Drive”, to the Event rather than spend a night in Las Vegas. It was partly budget and part timing but it was quick and fairly painless for us to take turns and keep moving. As soon as we arrived, John set right out to build his campsite, while I stretched out on the front seat and napped till dawn. We set-up in my favorite spot behind the swimming pool. I was happy to see that we were the first ones but sad that the area wasn’t the grassy park that I remembered. They had stopped watering and the grass and it had all died, but…. there was shade and it was better than pitchin a tent on a dusty desert road adjacent to the field.
At 8 am it was a beautiful morning with light winds coming from the lake. John and I loaded the truck with our paramotors and drove to the field. The first thing I noticed as we walked up to the Registration tent was a life size cutout of Bob Armond standing by the entrance with his arms spread and a sign saying “Free Beer Tomorrow”. Some people were offended, but I just smiled and said “Yeah Bob”. We paid our fees, collected our Bob Armond Memorial T-Shirts and moved out the field to fly.
Michelle Danielle…Joe Onofrio…Jorden Danielle BOB ARMOND in SPIRIT
My first flight was special. I cruised the area and visited places I had fond memories of. There…. was the spot where I distroyed the Simonini Trike Buggy after launching with a huge tumble weed caught in the lines and there… was the old dome where my first Paratoys was held, I came here with Brian Smith all those years ago. I worked on trimming the wing that wanted to turn to the left regardless the wind direction. After some experimentation I was able to fly straight with the right trimmer out two stops. I was flying straight and feeling good about it but something was out of balance and it would take some time before I discovered the problem. I was not sure if it was the wing or the hang points.
The afternoon was marred when Phil Russman and Mike Robinson had a mid-air collision about 30 feet up over the LZ. I don’t know who was at fault but words were exchanged and Phil was asked to leave. At 6:00pm Mike called a pilot briefing and chewed the bunch of us out for a litany of wrongs. We had all received a page of rules but, as usual, the day before the fly-in, nobody was paying attention to the rules. I was no angel…, when the landing area was full of wings and I was out of gas, I decided to hell with it and landed in the launch area. We were all guilty. Bob was gone and this “new boss” just didn’t have our attention.
The event was not starting off well. The biggest problem was stolen equipment. One pilot had a wing stolen when he landed out and had to leave it behind while he carried his motor back to the field, other stuff was stolen from the Vendor booths and there was some money missing. Now…., I’ve been to many fly-ins and theft had never been a problem, so this was something new and not a good sign, for this fly in or future ones. It is no secret that Mike doesn’t love doing the Paratoys event and was planning to make it every other year instead of annually. So standing there in the twilight, listening to the ass chewing, I wondered if this might not be the last Paratoys Fly-In, at least the last one at the Salton Sea.
Great day! Four long flights in T-Shirt weather. After dinner I hung with Chad and Greg until it was time to meet Dawn and show her the way to the Fly-In.
Nice casual breakfast then out to the field to walk the line and introduce Dawn to the community. While Dawn and I were chatting with Michael Purdy we heard that there were 35 mph gusts west of us at the gas station … 10 minutes later it hit. A huge wind front blasted through the flight line. It was strong enough to rip the windsock from it’s mast at the center of the field. There were about a dozen pilots in the air and it was clear they were in trouble. All but one were able to get down, with only minor injuries and equipment damages. The last pilot was blown off shore. Dawn and I watched him work his way back to the beach only to be blown back out over the water every time he descended to land. Finally he went for altitude and was blown out of sight. I remember thinking that we were watching a man flying to his death.
(This is an excellent interview with Jeff Goin and Lance Marzack discussing the wind front that could have been a disaster.
The wind didn’t look like it was going to moderate so Dawn and I jumped into the truck and drove to the other side of the Salton Sea. I wanted to show her Salvation Mountain and I thought that if the lost pilot had been blown across the Sea we would at least be on the east side to offer him a ride. I caled Paratoys and told Brian where we were just in case he wanted us to do a recovery.
The winds were light when we got to the East shore but twenty minutes after we arrived at Salvation Mountain the wind picked up and continued to build. It was not as strong and didn’t on as abruptly as it did at the field, but it was steady and it was clearly not going to be flyable, probably for the rest of the day.
Salvation Mountain, …one mans mission to praise the lord with nothing but a bunch of paint and desert sand. Apparently “Old Lenard”, had been sick because we found “Get Well” letters tucked in little alcoves for him to find when he returned. After wandering around and taking pictures we went in search of Slab City. Last year I drove around for an hour and got hopelessly lost trying to find “The Last Free Place in America”. Slab City was made famous by the movie, “Into the Wild”, it is a squatters camp situated on the site of George Patton’s WW II training base. I was expecting a happy hippie commune but instead found only abject poverty, there were several dozen decaying RVs and makeshift shelters scattered across the desert. Some had the appearance of something out of the “Burning Man Festival” others spoke of refugees or counter culture fugitives. Needless to say Dawn and I were underwhelmed and only to happy to turn the truck into the wind and head back to the east shore to get ready for the big banquet.
This year it was a celebration. Our lost pilot had been found. We started the Banquet by having the lucky pilot telling his story.
Rich Kennedy “The Lost Pilot”
Rich Valentine had been in the air for 20 minutes when the gust front arrived. He was on the beach and quickly blown off shore. The winds were higher at the surface and so he found himself flying a box. At 1000 feet he was able to penetrate the gust and fly toward the shoreline only to be blown back over the water when he descended to land. After three or four cycles he looked at his gas and decided that his best chance was to run with the wind and make for the far shore 12 miles west. With a 40 MPH tailwind he arrived at Bombay beach in less than 15 minutes and landed in relatively calm air where he was met by a couple on their way to church. Since he had neglected to bring a cell phone there was no way for him to contact the fly in. He had no idea that we had called in the big guns and that there were two helicopters and dozens of people looking for him.
Jeff Goin…Joe Onofrio…Chad Bastian…Mo Shelton
John Fetz John Sieb Dawn McLane
After dinner the competition winners were announced and Michelle Danielle presided over the Bob Armond Memorial portion of the evening. She put her words to song and brought many to tears. The evening was capped off with the return of Phil Russman who had prepared a video tribute to Bob.
(The link above is Will Jones interviewing Jeff Goin and Lance Marzack about the near disaster caused by the tremendous wind front that hit Sat. morning)
Sunday morning I flew with the new com helmet and radio for the first time. Once again my luck with communication equipment is poor. The PTT button was only working intermittently but I could hear the other pilots just fine. If putting a new battery in the ear cup does not correct it, I will send the helmet back for repair. The conditions were very thermic. When I felt the left wingtip get lifted I turned into it and was climbing at 300 fpm (at idle). After climbing to 1500 feet I lost the thermal and so I turned north and enjoyed a leisurely flight to say goodbye to the Salton Sea. The winds had built to 10mph when it was time to come down and so the landing was almost vertical, I love it when I run out of altitude and energy at the same time. 🙂
Dawn kissed me goodbye and headed off to San Diego where she was going to catch a flight back home. It was fun to have her at the event and I was glad to have been able to introduce her to some great friends. The high winds ruined her shot at a tandem foot launch with Chad but she was a good sport, swallowed her disappointment and made the best out of it. What a trooper! I will do my best to get her some airtime soon.
The winds were predicted to be bad at Glamas Dunes so John and I decided to try for Las Vegas. Traffic was terrible but we arrived in Jean Nevada with plenty of time to hit the buffet and get a good nights sleep. The next morning we got up early and drove out to Lake Jean. The winds were 10 mph and gusting. What a bummer, I had forgotten how nice this place is. A perfect place to launch in all directions with some great elevation changes to fly around. Ah well, maybe next year….