Salton Sea 2011

The Adventure Continues

Walking the Big Wheel

The weather was terrible. 

A huge storm , sweeping north and east from San Diego to the Great Lakes was shutting down the middle of the country.   Denver was snow packed and frigid with snow showers and high winds.  Driving to California without new rubber on the Ford was not an option.  This was the first time in 6 years that the weather was an issue.  The storm came in 24 hours early and I missed the window that would have insured dry roads.  Mike Miller was a huge help when he cancelled his service calls to free me up to buy snows and get out of town a few hours quicker.  The plan was to head south to Albuquerque and try to get under the storm instead of punching through the backside somewhere West of the Rockies.

Loading the truck was slapstick, all exposed surfaces were covered in ice and the blizzard was blowing into every nook and cranny.  Every time I tried to pull the trike up into the pick-up the ramps would slip under the back wheels  Finally after 5 failed attempts I figured a way to secure the ramp and loaded the Falcon.  Wasting no time I just threw the tent, wings, gas, big wheel and everything else on top. The only silver lining was that 15 mph winds helped me kite the big tarp over the pile.  Using my best frozen dock lines I lashed the tarp and said a prayer…

It wasn’t pretty but at 1:00pm I was southbound on I-25. The roads were packed with snow and visibility was horrible but I was feeling good driving a  loaded truck with new tires.   It was a tough drive, the average speed was 40mph with long spells of 10 mph when the visibility fell to 50 feet.  I was happy to hit 50 miles per hour after passing Glorieta.  Finally I arrived at the Route 66 Casino outside Paramotor City at 12:30pm.  In Albuquerque the roads were wet with intermittent small storm showers.

The storm had caught up but the highways were plowed headed west.    I had not noticed it yesterday because I never got up to speed but now the truck was bogging down and unable to get over 70 mph. I stopped in Gallop and wasted $300 bucks at the Goodyear store where they diagnosed the problem as a clogged fuel filter.
But… I thought it was fixed and headed out into the storm. It wasn’t until was 30 miles out of town and hit clear roads that I realized that the truck was still having problems. In Holbrook I bit the bullet and went to the Ford dealership. Even though it was 4pm they took the truck and thanks to a veteran Ford Tech the problem was diagnosed as a bad igniter coil. At 6:30 they cut me loose. I was at the very southern edge of the storm going in and out of blizzard conditions about every 30 minutes. It was amazing how the roads would be clear one minute and almost instantly turn to packed snow and ice.  I’m guessing that the fast moving edge of the storm was being focused by the terrain with fingers of blizzard crossing the highway. The winds were gusting 50+ with only the big rigs and I braving the weather.  I finally made Blythe and stopped for the night. So much for power driving all the way to the Sea.

Finally, I was out of the storm, the winds were still strong but the skies were clear. I had hoped to hook up with Jeff Goin and the Australian contingent at Glamis. The idea was to fly the dunes Wednesday night, camp there and head to the Salton Sea Thursday morning but after talking with Jeff and hearing that it was a blow out; I stayed on Hwy 10 and headed to the North Shore to visit Salvation Mountain.

Pligramage to Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain  (  ) is located in the lower desert of Southern California in Imperial County just east of the Salton Sea and about a hour and a half from Palm Springs. Salvation Mountain is Leonard Knights’ tribute to God and his gift to the world with its simple yet powerful message: “God Is Love.” Leonard’s passion has lovingly created this brilliant “outsider art ” masterpiece resplendent with not only biblical and religious scripture such as the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the Sinner’s Prayer, but also including flowers, trees, waterfalls, suns, bluebirds, and many other fascinating and colorful objects. Salvation Mountain must be seen to be fully appreciated as those who have made the journey will attest. Its 50 foot height and 150 foot breadth is made totally of local adobe clay and donated paint and is truly unique in the United States and probably the world. From its Sea of Galilee at the bottom, to the big red heart in the middle, to the cross at the very top, the reoccurring theme of “Love” is everywhere at Salvation Mountain.

Leonard’s house

My daughter Olivia had seen Salvation Mountain in the movie INTO THE WILD and very much wanted to go there so I thought it might be fun to visit and send her a few pictures.

Dinner at the Mexican Resturant

Chad Bastian, Bob Peloquin John Fetz and I went to the local Mexican place which was packed with tables of pilots from around the country. It was great to catch up with the guys. Bob was enjoying his retirement; Chad was officially healthy and gaining weight. Greg and I were just plain glad to be out of town. After dinner Bob graciously offered me a berth in his RV.  It was plenty cold out and I grateful to have a warm place to sleep.

Was a blowout. I spent the day catching up with friends. A few of the Professionals were flying and Jeff put on a display of reverse launching with a Paratoys quad.

Jeff Going doing Quad Reverse

Sometime when I was wandering around Leon Wacker put the complete set of charts for the Tom Bigbee and TVA and Mississippi River into the truck.  He remembered talking to me at Bubbas about maybe taking the inland waterway down to New Oleans.  What a Guy!
The big event of the day was Perry Molter’s amazing double riser twist. There were plenty of witnesses when he launched into 10 mph wind with a powerful and unfamiliar motor. Almost immediately he torque into a riser twist and started to spin into the ground. At 20 feet, he reapplied power and avoided impact but twisted again, at the last possible moment he regained control and flew off to enjoy a 15 minute flight. I wasn’t sure if it was a display of extraordinary skill or a very lucky newbie … Perry has amassed an amazing number of flights in just a few years and is a good pilot on his way to becoming a great one. He was awarded the Bonehead Award at the banquet for the double riser twist and accepted it with good humor.

Mike Robinson presenting the Bonehead Award to Perry Molter

That night we had dinner again at the Mex Place which was still struggling to handle the unexpected rush in business.    Later at Bob’s RV after a shower and hot tub I watched the movie  Danny Deckchair, about halfway through I fell asleep. 
Was a good day, I got in two long flights. The first was an hour and a half spent mostly skimming the beach to the north. I visited the old dome site and practiced the low and slow. After lunch and a visit to the vendor booths I went up again and did the same thing to the south. The sea has receded a bit from last year and there were several areas where you could see a recent fish kill. The beach was loaded with dead fish and there were patches of carcasses visible just off shore. I would have liked to spent some time inland but the thermals were popping all over and it was really only nice on the beach.  On thing caught my eye was a good size boat abandoned on the beach, it looked like it had been there a long time.  But the best eye candy of the show was Jeff Hamman flying his Manta Ray complete with a remora fish hitching a ride.

by Elisabeth Dufour

  As I was packing up the Nirvana team launched and did a night show.  LEDs embedded into their props projected graphics linked to a computer.  I don’t understand it but they were able to program lettering and graphic onto the spinning props. 

Team Nirvana

Night time synchronised aerobatics with a light show….
WOW!   Watch the video

View it here… 

That night the Mex place was ready for us, we were greeted by Jose like long lost cousins. The food came quick and the portions were large.   Lots of pilots having a good time,  Later,  back at the ranch I hit the hot tub with Marek and Robert we were entertained by a precocious little boy who so wanted to fly like his daddy.
Was the best!
I got in 6 flights including the X-country race to the Knob. The air was good all day. There was an inversion at 1800 feet that had to be powered through but the air at altitude was as nice as it could be. I climbed to 7000 feet and took in the sights. It wasn’t crystal clear but I was able to see from one end of the Sea to the other. Unfortunately my camera’s battery failed and there are no pictures.

ParaToys new field Photo bt Para-Flyers of Florida

The Falcon performed like a champ. It’s climbing at better than 500 feet/min from the beach and was still over 400ft/min at 7000ft ASL.  Below the Japanese Slalom was taking place it was safer than the cloverleaf but not as interesting to watch.  I caught three or four runs with Robert Jerry Alex and Marek and decided I’m better at participating than spectating.  It’s just much better to be in the air!

Michelle and CC Our …”First Ladies of PPG”


Elisabeth Dufour …  Eric’s  “First Lady of PPG”

After the morning flights Jim Doyle gave me a set of Pulstar iridium pulse plugs that he installed on the falcon.  It made a nice change, the idle came down slightly and top speed increased 250 RPM. It seemed to run smoother at idle and run up a little faster. Jim is representing the company for love of the sport and they are well worth the money! 

After lunch was the X-country Competition. Early in the event Dean Elderedge broke the world speed record with an early morning flight and a so it is not surprising that a common topic among the pilots was speed. There were 4 classes … Footlaunch reflex and non and wheeled reflex and non. I launched in the 3rd heat wheeled non-reflex. Initially I followed the beach until I climbed above the inversion then I turned inland and followed the highway out to the knob. Once at the knob I had a heck of a time spotting Brian who was monitoring the goal box. The idea was to overfly the box low enough to read the “secret number” painted inside. When we got back to the LZ we reported to Brian and gave him the secret number to prove that we had completed the objective.

On the way back to the LZ Bob Peloquin caught and trotted passed me . He was flying a  Viper2 26 with the Simonini Trike Buggy. There may be a controversy as to the stability of the reflex wing but there is no doubt as to it’s speed. He should have won the class except for a misunderstanding as to how to finish. ….Seems he needed to overfly Brian before landing and did not. I was not aware of the rule either but by pure dumb luck did the right thing. Pierre and Greg were also flying in my class and got off a little later than I. The Eden III was loaded heaver than their wings and unless I made a real mistake I should have been plenty faster.

Later I spoke with Brian and offered to help with next years race.  I’m sure using some of the techniques from yacht racing we can make it more competitive and fun to watch.  I shudder to think of the variables involved in PHRF ing different wings and weights but …At the very least a NOR ( Notice of Race can make it more competitive and fun to watch.  I’m sure it’s done in the European Comps. 

The Flock

After the race I had some Empanadas and wandered the vendor booths.  Alex Varv came with his modified Kangook paramotor.  He has helped me out over the years with parts and advice and I was looking forward to finaly meeting him.  It was too bad that his motor was getting so much attention because the booth was full and we didn’t really have an opportunity to chat.  Next Time.  The paramotor looked great and if his claim of low torque is correct it will be a great boon to the sport.  The harness was by far the nicest I have ever seen.  

That evening was the Banquet Hosted by Paul Anthem and Michelle Danielle.  They get better every year.  This year Paul showed his skill as a vocalist NOT! …  but it was better than last years outhouse skit.    Michael Purdy and Eric Dufour announced the winners of the first comp of the season and Jeff announced Dean Elderedge’s  World Speed Record. 

I received the trophy for Classic Wing Quad  X-country Race and  Michell gave away lots and lots of swag.  Mike Robinson said a few emotional words and a new Memorial Airfield was dedicated by the owner who pledged the land to us.  Later The Pilot Project Band entertained us with classic rock.  It was a great party followed up by the hot tub and bed.

My first PPG trophy !


Up early and into the sky.   Beautiful morning to go high and say goodbye.  Everyone was packing up when I walked the flight line one last time to say my farewells.  I hooked up with Pierre and Greg and we made plans to convoy to Glamis together.  When we got there the wind was blowing 8 mph gusting to 12 or 13.  I set up but aborted after seeing Greg parked at 50 feet.  Watching him fly the trike buggy made me remember just how great the combination of Simonini and a Trike Buggy is.  Very nimble machine.   We made a wolf camp and sat around the fire until well after dark telling stories and enjoying the moment.  I used Roberts Pop-out tent since my was broken and slept like a baby.


The next morning we all flew.  There was a good breeze but the surface winds were low enough for an easy launch.  I stayed up for a little over an hour the winds were against me on the way back but I was in no rush.  The non event of the flight was when I lifted off I realized that I’d forgotten ear protection.  No problem I looked around and saw the answer in the closed cell Styrofoam I was using to mount the tiny tack.  I pulled off a couple of pieces and stuffed them in my ears… Worked like a champ.

The trip home was a bitch.  The snow was back with a vengeance.  I drove straight through except for two 20 minute naps in the cab of the truck.  Lots of vehicles had run off the road including one little jerk who had honked at me earlier for going too slowly.  Good trip… Lots of good memories … Thanks Guys