Icarus Florida 2017

The Icarus Trophy is a paramotor race by The Adventurists in the U.K. 

Mike Lange and I were raring to go.  I spent the better part of a week going over the course looking for gas stops close to reasonable landing zones.  It looked doable …. scary … but doable.  To prepare for the challenges of long x-country I added a few pieces to the kit; a collapsible 5 gallon fuel container, a light weight sleeping bag and space blanket, a wing bag and small tool kit.    Finally I mounted my camelbac on the left of the seat.  It would serve two purposes, keep me hydrated and provide pockets for emergency food and misc. stuff.  It all fit nicely under and around the seat and would cover the most obvious needs.  My reserve was out of certification so I borrowed Tony Littell’s for the weekend.  I was ready.

When we arrived at the Avaitor HQ in Lake Wales, it was blowing like stink and raining.  Eric Farewell and Travis Burnes have put together the best and most professional PPG school in America.  Located at the Lake Wales Municipal Airport they have everything necessary to safely teach powered paragliding.   HQ is a great little building  that serves as classroom, showroom and shop.  It’s clean, well organized and hospitable.  Most impressive was the semicircle of posh recliners in the in front of a large flat screen and whiteboard.  Bravo!

The briefing was at 6:00p.  Mike and I sat in recliners and chatted with the other competitors while we waited.  Everybody was psyched but a little disappointed by the weather.  Tomorrow was looking bad, the winds were expected to be NE 10mph at dawn and building through the day.  Shane started the meeting on time with the disclaimer that this was an unsupported race and that the weather could be a show stopper.  We went over the course and they pointed out several things I’d missed in my own prep.  I was especially glad for Eric’s  knowledge  of the area.  He pointed out a few places that I thought I’d like to fly to, if not during the race then another time.  After the briefing, a few myself included, had resolved not to fly in the morning.  I was fairly confident about getting up and could probably penetrate the wind to the first waypoint but I didn’t like the idea of landing in 20+ mph at Valkaria Airport.  

That evening we went to the fish house for dinner.   While we munched conch fritters and grouper it became clear who was serious and who was casual.  Some of the pilots came completely unprepared, expecting  race management to provide everything needed to race the course.  Others were more like Mike and I with eyes wide open but slightly glazed over.  At the end of the meal, there was no question Johnson Qu and Trey German were the real competitors for this race.   Trey had competed last year in the big race and was favored but Johnson was the “hungry new guy” looking to win.  I could see him on a real TV show charming the audience.  Either one……They were prepared and fearless, they had it down, every possible stop and contingency seemed to be covered.  Confident, young and immortal.

It was a beautiful warm morning.  The winds were exactly as expected.  It was flyable at Lake Wales and not so much upwind at Palm Bay.  Mike went up for a quick flight and proclaimed it, ” not fun”.  That iced it for me.  Maybe this afternoon I would be able to shoot for the first waypoint but not this morning.  I asked Eric if he had any quick release carabiners which would have allowed me to “dump the wing”, in the case of a high wind landing.  Unfortunately it’s not exactly the kind of accessory people keep around.  Before I attempt another x-country I’m going to “get me sum”!

Trey and Johnson launched without incident.  Travis launched his drone and followed Johnson until he was out of range, about 5 miles.  A broke out a box of Rice Crispy treats and handed them out to the spectators.  Matt Minyard put on an aerobic show for the crowd finishing with a beautiful streamer flight.

The noon forecast was for more of the same.  

I never launched, it was just too dangerous to attempt landing in 20+mph.

Kudos to the winners!

Here is Trey’s write up.


952 & 953 WOW 2017


Dawn launch, Shell Creek.

50 minutes 
1200 ft.  AGL
Light ground fog.
Chase cam footage.

Dawn Launch, Lake Wales Municipal Airport WOW 1017
1200ft AGL
Foggy conditions.  
Hung around the airport for 40 minutes and landed when it looked like it was closing in.  
No Drama

WOW was a bust.  Well, not exactly but the weather looked like it would shut down aviation after Friday. It was pretty obvious so I changed my plans and drove up Thursday afternoon.  Mike Lange and another pilot and I had a Mac Dinner and it was off to bed.  The next morning I  flew early and left after visiting a few friends.  Jeff Goin said it best in his blog post.  lots of new blood.  The most poignant moment was standing with Leon Wacker and Eric Dufore while The Aviator Staff and students put on a show for the cameras.

Lithia Mini Fly In #908

This was a fun day.  I met up with Mike Lange and Mike Otten at 4:45.  We followed a marginally quicker but significantly more convoluted route to Lithia Florida where London Ivy had obtained permission for us to fly a 900 acre sod farm. Miles and miles of flat. 

Flight time 1:04
max.alt.      1300 msl
Steady breeze starting at 6 and building to 10 by 10:00am
I hung at the ceiling of 1200 and explored the area.  there were several large sand quarries. The highlight was the state trooper gun range and fleet park where they had a large commercial airliner as lawn sculpture.  Go Figure?

Wings Over Winter 2014

                                                   The Falcon on long approach 

The third WOW was held at the now closed Chateau  Suzanne in Lake Wales. It’s a beautiful little place and I will be forever sorry not to have seen it, in all its glory.  Chateau Suzanne is a  30s era, “Old Florida”, French style resort.  In it’s day, the Chalet was frequented by the rich and famous who would fly into Suzanne’s grass strip, to dine and mingle.  Today, the 5 star restaurant and hotel closed and they were only begrudgingly renting a few rooms to those pilots in need, and then, only with limited amenities.  The mixture of Florida and French kitsch works, there are narrow walkways to the bungalows and wrought  iron gates everywhere.  The colors are tropical and Mediterranean at the same time.  A truly a place out of time that has, “done gone on”

                                                 French Florida kitsch
Mike Lange arrived a couple of days early and enjoyed the best flying weather.  The winds were predicted to start building Friday night and Saturday was expected to be a blw-out.   I hadn’t planed to fly the first day ( more out of habit than any other reason) but Mike and the host, Eric Farewell encouraged me to take advantage of the clear air and so I went up for a nice sunset flight

 That evening, we sat around the campfire under a gorgeous full moon and introduced ourselves to the other pilots.  The group was mostly local guys with a few from adjacent states.  I didn’t know anybody and was working hard to remember names.  The next time I run into Mike (or is it Mark?) Weber, I’m going to recognize him…. I promise.
Friday morning was excellent!  I was at the field before sunrise and got in a nice long flight.  The wind was blowing 15 mph from the north so I didn’t travel far but I did go to 2000 ft and got a good feel for the area. The most notable landmark was a Deco styled tower which was built in the 30s on a meager little hill that is reported to be the highest point of land in Florida.  It denotes a neighborhood that was and is still populated by the super rich.  Of course, we were warned to stay clear of the area.
The afternoon was another story.  The first launch was a bust with the wing coming up crookedly and the second was a disaster.  Apparently, one of the lines came out of its keeper and caught the zip tie during initial inflation.  The wing came up crazy and with the help of a little wind …. I went into a slow turtle.  Totally frustrated and embarrassed I unclipped and jumped to right the rig before every mothers son ran over to save me.  The offending line was damaged where it caught on the zip tie holding the keeper. The sheath had been severed and the keeper was gone.  The pressure on the lines must have been tremendous because the keeper was one of those hugely thick 3/8ths zip ties.  It’s hard to imagine a single line breaking such a stout piece of plastic.
                                                           Broken sheath

With two bad launch attempts, including a turtle, I felt like the slow kit in the smart class.  I was determined to fly before sunset to save what ego I had left.  So….  I stripped some electrical tape off the cage and taped up the lines to make a temporary keeper for my third attempt.  The third launch was a non-event….. And a nice but short flight.
Of course, the best part of any fly-in is getting to see my PPG family.  If yesterday I was surprised not to know anybody, Friday the Tribe showed up.  I chatted with Eric Dufour who had brought a bunch of students down from Christmas Florida.  He told me that he and Elizabeth are moving to Valkaria, they are going to move out of the trailer and into a real house a shop for Elizabeth.  It will be nice to visit them.  Ryan Shaw and Jessica came from Arizona to support Nirvana / Paramania and Jeff Goin and Tim Kaiser flew the chopper over from Polk City.  That evening we all went out for dinner at Sizzling.  It was great to spend time with everybody.  These guys were my support during the dark years and I’ll forever cherish their friendship.
                        Jeff Goin
                          Ryan & Jessica
Saturday morning was cool with a steady breeze.  I launched clean and enjoyed an hour and 15 minutes playing around.   During the landing I was treated to the sight of two eagle wings flying over the field.  Eric Dufour had arranged for a couple of Elizabeth’s custom wings to be available and two competent pilots were putting on a show and Jeff trailed them shooting video.  About this time Bob Harrison showed up and he, Mike and I were outstanding in our field enjoying the “Never Quit” birds.  I especially like the way they would pull big ears to make the birds more realistic.

 Later when I was packing the cooler I noticed that there was one Ginger beer left, so I jumped on the bike and ran it over to Jeff and Tim’s RV.  It’s fun to drink and it might give some relief if any of their passengers get airsick.  Then on the way back, I ran into Terry Lutke and his wife…. what a surprise!!  They were in the area helping her folks move into  winter quarters.  We had a nice visit while I packed.  We talked about possibly getting together before they headed back up north.   I hope they do swing down to Charlotte Harbor.  It will be fun to show them around and possibly fly Pine Island and even better, if they have the time to stay the night and be our first house guests.
Thanks Eric, for putting this on.  It was great!  Good luck to you with Avaitor PPG.