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….
Most Flights in one day. It should probably be 256.5 because I did a touch and go that was so long I taxied the full lenght of the field.
First time to fly a performance wing Spice 24 (or there abouts) First time to fly a 4 stroke. I took up Bens machine with the eden 28.
The thumper flight was marred when I rigged the brake line thru the hangpoint rings and had a friction lock. Landed dead stick at the rocky end of the field. I had to take a wrap on the Brake line above the ring.
Tonight there was a prop burning and outdoor movies.
I had dinner with Ben at the Mexican Resturant…Huge Special plate.
Flight #105 to #125 The 2008 Salton Sea fly-in was wonderful! This was the first time I have been to a flying event where I can truly say that I got my fill. Three days of four flights and two days of two flights…16 in all.
John Seib and I got an early start and drove straight through to Indio California, about 20 miles north of the Fly-in. There was snow and ice for the first couple of hours but as we approached Glenwood Canyon the roads cleared and we powered on until 11:00pm when we stopped at a Holiday Inn and crashed. Wednesday morning we gassed up drove to Vista Del Mar and got in a couple of flights before the end of the day. The only incidents were both non-events. Friday I had an engine out two minutes after take off. I was at 250 feet and still going down wind …no problem. I set down on the beach and called John Sieb to pick me up. It was the same wire I broke last summer during the Balloon fest…the ground wire from the go no go toggle. This time I used a little shrink tubing to protect the connection. A couple of days later my second gas cap got into the prop and parted with a bang. I was startled but no damage.
This was billed as the last Paratoys Fly-in at the Salton Sea and the absence of Michael Purdy…Jeff Goin and some others was conspicuous. Attendance was down a bit and the whole thing had a different feel than past years…There were still campfires at night and kiting wars but there was no Alan Chocolate Memorial Style Competition Somehow it was just more subdued than the past. One of the biggest differences was the large number of trikes and quads. Bob is all about selling his joint venture with Leon. The Paracruiser/Paratoys quad looks to be a winner. And I don’t think you will ever hear Bob calling the trike pilots girly girls again. The day of foot launch being the majority is going away. I hope he finds a wealthy young guy and flips Paratoys for a boat load of money. He deserves it.
John Black made a speech during the Banquet that was reminiscent of an AA Meeting….”HI I’M JOHN AND I’M A DUMB SHIT”….HI JOHN! It was a good thing he did. I guess he is a pretty aggressive pilot but I think he has seen his god. The near fatal crash had to be an eye opener and I doubt he will be doing any mid day flying again. The famous video is at the bottom of this post.
Chad is having a good year, the trike buggy is considered one of the best machines around and I know he is selling plenty. The clubhouse has opened their kitchen for breakfast and it a great time and place to sit and get acquainted. Chad brought his wife who is a delightful woman out going and cheerful.
Bob Armond was also at those breakfasts, drinking coffee and swapping stories. He wasn’t as stressed as years past… he did look tired. I was touched when on the last morning I approached him to purchase an emergency stuff sack and he refused my cash and gave me one as a gift.
I did some trading and am now the owner of an Eden III 26m wing. It has about 100 hours on it but it’s in great shape and the same colors as my first wing. It handles much better at this altitude and I expect it will be real sporty back home. I slept better because of a new air mattress arctic sleeping bag. Food was more plentiful because the club house opened their kitchen but I still ate way too much junk food.
Salton Sea 2007 #34 #35 #36 #37 Feb.1, 07 One memorable thing was the time I killed the motor while trying to get into the seat. I had just enough time to turn back into the wind and land at the downwind end of the field. Nobody raised an eyebrow …a non-event.
#38 #39 #40 Feb. 2 07 A Grand Day
NO Fly Day Bad Knee Feb 3, 07 It was ironic that the orthopedic surgeon called me while I was hanging out on the field watching and wishing. He had reviewed my MRI and was suggesting surgery as soon as convenient.
#41 Feb,4, 07
Johnny Fetz “Allen C’s Memorial Style Competition
Last day at the Salton Sea I blew the first launch but got of clean on the second attempt. Great flight! Over an hour in the air at both high and low altitudes. I was nice to revisit the area and say goodbye. I’ve come a long way from last year but there is much to master.
5th Flight Salton Sea Feb. 10th 2006 My first perfect landing! I spent half the day hassling with equipment. The carburetor needed to be adjusted for low altitude and the starter cord broke twice. The first time was when Bubba was giving me a start. He pulled the knot right through the handle and I felt every bit the newbie that I was. The second time I slipped a washer between the stopper knot and the handle and solved the problem. Eventually everything got put together and at 1:45 I laid out the wing and on my third attempt…finally, got into the air. The actual take-off was a lot easier than at 5500 ft ASL. I still had to run but not as far and not nearly as fast. The snap was taking longer than normal to come up to full power but sounded good when it got there. I noticed that the wing also climbed faster. Most of the other pilots were flying at 300 to 500 feet so I climbed to 1800 and tried to take it all in. For the first time in three months I was flying and it felt great!
I could see the Fly-in below. There were lots of wings being laid out for take off and the rows of campers, trailers and tents between the take-off and landing zones. This was the first time I had been in the air with other pilots and watching the gliders from above was a nice change. I especially liked being the LZ and watching them land. The whole area looked like a development in its first stage. Apparently twenty years ago, somebody got the wise idea to turn the Salton Sea into a luxury retirement community. They built the infrastructure but they couldn’t sell the lots. I’m sure that if the water were good this would be prime real estate. Sea and desert surrounded by mountains. I can see it now, …millionaires and moviestars … Cigarette boats and beach bars. On second thought if the water had been good, we wouldn’t be here. So I guess toxic water can be a good thing. I would have stayed up longer but after 45 minutes I knew there wasn’t a whole lot of gas left. I decended into the flight pattern and did several “S” turns to bleed off altitude. The landing was great, a perfect two point touch-down. My altitude and forward speed reached zero at the same instant. What a feeling! I threw up my hands and shouted…YES… to the world. It was just what the doctor had ordered. After dozens of days of walking off the field without getting into the air and trips and falls and twisted knees and broken equipment…it was all worth it. No matter what happens from here forward, now…I am a pilot. I carried my rig back to the trailor in a kind of euphoric fog where several of the guys were hashing over their flights. Bo grinned at and said, “I saw your landing “.
5th Flight Salton Sea My first perfect landing! I spent half the day hassling with equipment. The carburetor needed to be adjusted for low altitude and the starter cord broke twice. The first time was when Bubba was giving me a start. He pulled the knot right through the handle and I felt every bit the newbie that I was. The second time it broke I slipped a washer between the stopper knot and the handle and solved the problem. Eventually everything got put together and at 1:45 I laid out the wing …and on my third attempt…finally…, got into the air. The actual take-off was a lot easier than at 5500 ft ASL. I still had to run but not as far and not nearly as fast. The snap was taking longer than normal to come up to full power but it sounded good once it got there. I noticed that the wing also climbed faster. Most of the other pilots were flying at 300 to 500 feet so I climbed to 1800 to get out of the traffic take in the sights. For the first time in three months I was flying and it felt great!
I could see the whole Fly-in below me. There were lots of wings being laid out for take off and the rows of campers, trailers and tents between the take-off and landing zones. This was the first time I had been in the air with other pilots and watching the gliders from above was a nice change. I especially liked being over the LZ and watching them land. The whole area looked like a development in its first stage. The roads and water were in and there were a few scattered houses. Apparently twenty years ago, somebody got the wise idea to turn the Salton Sea into a luxury retirement community. They built the infrastructure but they couldn’t sell the lots. I’m sure that if the water were good this would be prime real estate. Sea and desert surrounded by mountains. I can see it now …millionaires and moviestars … Cigarette boats and beach bars. On second thought if the water had been good, we wouldn’t be here. So I guess toxic water can be a good thing. I would have stayed up longer but after 45 minutes I was afraid there wasn’t a whole lot of gas left. I descended into the flight pattern and did several “S” turns to bleed off altitude. The landing was great, a perfect two point touch-down. My altitude and forward speed reached zero at the same instant. What a feeling! I threw up my hands and shouted…YES… to the world. It was just what the doctor had ordered. After dozens of days of walking off the field without getting into the air and trips and falls and twisted knees and broken equipment…it was all worth it. No matter what happens from here forward, now…I am a pilot. I carried my rig back to the trailer in a kind of euphoric fog where several of the guys were hashing over their flights. Bo grinned at and said, “I saw your landing “.
6th FlightI chilled for about an hour and launched again. This time it was dead calm and my run was a lot longer and faster than I thought possible. At take-off, I took a bad step and felt my knee twist and I knew that I would either fly on the next step or fall on my face. If I’d had a little more experience I would have pulled some brake and popped myself right up, I was certainly moving fast enough, but what I think happened was that when my knee twisted I stumbled a little bit and that caused me to throw my arms forward tightening the brake lines. Whatever…I got into the air and that’s all that mattered.
I was still having a hard time with the motor coming up to power slowly and it might have been part of the reason for the long run. There still wasn’t any breeze when I landed, so my glide slope was long and fast. I came in hot and remember thinking, “this is going to hurt”. I should have put one leg forward so that I could start running as soon as I touched down, but my knee was throbbing and I hadn’t put on the knee brace so I was afraid of dislocating it. I came in with both feet forward and hit the earth flat footed, most of my forward speed had dissipated, so I didn’t slide; it was a simple three point landing, feet…knees…face. I’d like to think that if my legs had been in the correct position I could have run it out.Nothing was hurt but it reminded me that I’m still a novice and have a long way to go.
One of the great things about going to a fly-in is seeing the other equipment and meeting the manufacturers. For a variety of reasons powered paragliding is a cottage industry, with many of the paramotors being built in small shops around the world. I had a great time talking with Leon Wacker the owner of Paracruiser. Over the last several months he had been my only contact when I was having equipment trouble. More than once he talked me through a carburetor adjustment or how to balance the propeller. While I was there, we did a hang test with my paramotor and tweaked a few things to make it easer to get into the seat. I also met Wayne Mitchler and his wife Suzy, who weighs less than 100 pounds and was both, the inspiration and namesake for my machine.
The Salton Sea lived up to its reputation for great flying conditions and even though I was content with two relatively short flights, other guys were literally flying all day. Fifteen-minute pit stops were not uncommon. Several times I saw pilots land, carry their gear out of the LZ, stop at their trailers to gas up, drink a soda, and… back into the sky. The last hour of daylight was magnificent. There were probably more gliders in the air at sunset than any other time. The full moon attracted the photographers and probably extended the flyable twilight. I think it was also because the guys had been sharing the sky all day and were now beginning to feel comfortable with others pilots around. Proof of that was it wasn’t uncommon to see groups of three or four flying in formation. Also it was the end of a day that nobody wanted to end, so we stretched the air time till we could just barely see to land.
The Albuquerque site was on the top of a small ridge overlooking the high desert plain with a midsize Butte about 3 miles west. When we got there Brian and Bo immediately suited up and went for a flight. The terrain was very rocky with lots of scrub, but I’d seen how Brian was able to run around or jump most of the obstructions and I figured that if I was careful so could I. Wrong…After three attempts in the light air, I had only succeeded in twisting my knee and tangling my lines. Either I stumbled and dropped to one knee or failed to get a good inflation. Try as I might, I could not get enough forward speed for take-off. I knew that if I really torqued the knee, I would be grounded for the rest of the trip, so I decided to quit and save myself for an easier launch site. My knee seemed ok but it was starting to swell and I knew I would be limping in the morning. I put on the knee brace and hoped for the best.
Doug also tried to launch but crashed his trike when he caught a line in a bush just as he started to rotate into the air. Luckily he wasn’t hurt, he did brake a prop, cut one of the glider’s lines and shattered his airbox. He was able to splice the broken line to get it flyable. The propeller wasn’t a problem because we all carried an extra prop but the airbox was totaled and his only hope was to find a replacement at the fly-in. While Doug and I were struggling on the ground Brian, John and Bo were exploring the territory and generally doing what every 12 year old boy dreams about. I’ll never forget Brian’s landing. He wanted to get in close but misjudged his approach and was about to crash into the trucks. Only by pulling some early brake and extreme athleticism at touch down was he able to pull off a two-point landing that flew him over one truck and dropped him between the two other vehicles. Of course he laughed off the whole thing but we both knew he had dodged a bullet. That night we sat in Brian’s pop up camper ate, drank and told hanger stories until it was time for bed.
High altitude and clear skies made for a very cold sunrise. Since I wasn’t going to try another launch at this site, I decided to sleep in. When I finally crawled out of the sleeping bag and went outside I was treated to a great view of a really spectacular flight. John Sieb was making an aerial assault on the Butte. Because we had camped up high on the ridge, the terrain between us and the butte was several hundred feet down and John was flying close to the ground. You could see him weaving through the sparce trees on the plain below. Sometimes he would swing around a clump of trees other times he would pop over them. I watched with envy as he approached the Butte and climbed until he was able to circle the top. What a sport, able to navigate in three dimensions, without going swimming! He had been in the air for a couple of hours when he returned and you could tell from his demeanor, that it had been a special flight. Sometimes when a pilot lands he is so excited that he can barely contain himself often hooping and hollering is the norm. This time was a little different because John quietly gathered up his wing and packed his motor in the truck. When I asked him about it later, he looked off in the distance and just smiled. I guess you just had to be there.
The drive from Albequere to Meteor City Arizona took us most of the day. Meteor City itself is nothing special, a trailer park and gas station with genuine imitation Indian handicrafts made in China. The crater is not part of the State or Federal Park system so we were not allowed to approach unless we wanted to join a tour and follow their guides around. We had arrived in plenty of time for a flight so John and Brian took off and explored the area. Doug’s motor was out of commission and my knee had stiffened up so we had to content ourselves with watching and wishing. The crater is a couple of miles south of the highway, from a distance it looks like a ridge, once again nothing special. I do want to come back here and try again because the pictures John brought back were pretty cool and there is a ruin on the way out that I would like to investigate. John misjudged his fuel landing short and out of gas. I was impressed though because he recognized the problem early and while he was still out by the crater climbed to a high enough altitude that he was able to glide most of the way back toward the LZ.
It was blowing pretty hard the next morning so we didn’t waste anytime getting on the road. ___hours later we were on the final leg, approaching the Salton Sea when Doug’s truck broke down. We called for a tow and left Doug at the truck while the rest of us jumped into Brian’s rig and drove the last couple of miles to the Fly-in. I saw the gliders off in the distance, there were dozens of them in the air, all going nowhere slowly. Once we had checked in a couple of the guys carried their machines down to the beach and took off. I was limping pretty badly and opted to rest my knee until the next morning. That night Brian introduced me around and wandered up to the “clubhouse” where I met Tim Russman who is the photographer/ videographer emeritus for Powered Paragliding. We chatted while he prepared his equipment for the next day. I also met Bob Peters, (a.k.a. Bubba), who had come out with his wife and a large group from the Pikes Peak PPG Club. I declined to join their sing-a-along but stayed around to enjoy the music. It was early to bed and early to rise because I was determined that the next day I would be flying!
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