I really needed this flight. Aside from a few 15 min runs I hadn’t made a real flight since the crazy ride that ended the Darkhorse 450. I had great weather and Kate made sure I had the whole day to make it happen.
I got off the ground about 30 minutes after sunrise. Wind was light and the temps were high 40’s. Perfect conditions for smooth air and I wasn’t disappointed.
It was odd not having a plan or any goal to meet. I didn’t even decide which direction to go until I had climbed out. The leaves are just starting to turn and with a little ground mist here and there, the view was everything you would imagine. Spectacular.
I decided to head towards Troy and just see what the day might bring. I had a great view of the town starting to wake up.
I made a loop around my parents a few miles outside of Troy and then started hopping tree lines heading back towards Union City.
I was starting to get pretty chilly about an hour into it, but like a kid in the snow, I couldn’t quit. It was too much fun. At one point I thought I was losing power until I realized my throttle hand had gotten so cold it was sluggish squeezing.
I rounded U.C. headed back home, and landed just shy of the 2hr mark. I was shaking so hard I could barely control my flare. That’s probably why it was so smooth.
That flight has made my whole week better. I can not wait for the next one.
To explain this flight I need to quickly explain how my glider works. It looks like a parachute but it doesn’t work like one. Parachutes fall down, catch the air beneath them, and slow your descent.
My glider works like an airplane wing. It’s two layers of material with and opening in the leading edge to allow air to rush inside. This flow of air inflates the glider like a balloon. The weight of the pilot pulling against it also helps it hold an airfoil shape, like an airplanes wing.
It’s important to understand because if you lose airspeed, or if the pilots weight isn’t pulling against the glider, the glider will lose it’s shape. We refer to it as a “deflation”. Like a popped balloon you aren’t flying until you reinflate the wing.
I took off from Jamestown at 1:00 in the afternoon. Winds at ground level were around 10mph. Winds aloft were 15-20, almost 90 degrees from my direction of travel. This made for some very rowdy air.
Emergency outs are few and far between in this area. Neil had given me a heading for climb out which put me over the few open fields in the area. Again, thank you Neil. Very impressive dude.
As soon as I got airborne I started getting thrashed. Remember the glider needs airspeed to fly. Mine needs 25mph flowing over it to fly straight and level. More airspeed means you will climb, less means you descend. The preferred method to affect this is smooth application of the throttle. Gusty inconsistent wind also changes airspeed and therefore lift. The sun hitting the ground creates hot spots. These hot spots create “thermals”, columns of warmer air that travel up. The more direct the sun hits the ground, the more heat it creates and the faster and “sharper” the thermal becomes. 1:00 is prime time for this.
Every yard of that 25 mile flight was a battle. Unlike other flights, there was no altitude to find stable air. As I neared 4,000′ feet the wind gust got much worse. I had to stay lower were the thermals were more violent.
A lot of firsts on this flight. First tip deflation for example. I was 90 degrees to the wind and flew through a thermal on my right side. I felt the brake line go completely slack and knew exactly what happened. By the time I looked up it was already reinflating, that’s the advantage of a beginner glider. You give up speed but gain stability.
When you hit a thermal your wing will tend to turn one way or the other. You are swinging beneath the wing like a pendulum. This means if you don’t manage that swinging force correctly you will start oscillating, swinging back and forth beneath the wing. If that isn’t corrected it can get quite violent and eventually lead to the wing collapsing. To prevent it you “roll with the punches”.
If a thermal rolls you left, pull some left brake to bank smoothly then roll back onto your desired heading. The goal is to keep your weight pulling squarely against the center of the wing.
Descending into Scott this became very important. Gretchen and Kate had hoped to see this landing and sent me a text asking if I could circle for a few minutes before touchdown, they were almost at Scott. I saw the message pop up over my instruments and thought “no way, I have got to get out of this chaos yesterday”. I didn’t know it but they would have plenty of time to catch the landing.
Scott has a big beautiful gorge about a half mile from the runway. This had become a wind tunnel. I passed over several similar features on the way in at 3,000′. Even that high I could feel the effects as the wind hit them and changed direction. No way was I passing over that at 1,000′ or less.
The sun was baking the earth near the airport and I really did not want to get into their airspace until I was about to land. I try to avoid traffic as much as I can. The problem was, every time I started to descend I got blasted back up. And I mean blasted.
My best climb rate in normal conditions is 400 feet per minute, that’s on a good day. One of the few times I could make out my climb indicator in a thermal it was reading over 800 feet a minute. This was no power, trying to dive at the ground. Remember “rolling with the punches”? The harder the punch the harder I had to roll to keep my weight pulling against the glider. Gretchen was seeing this for the first time and thought I was playing around, “it looked so cool” she said afterwards. Kate said she knew I wasn’t playing when she saw me go into a 90 degree bank. I didn’t know my wing could hold that, but at the time I had too.
Afterwards it hit me how this entire experience was exactly like coming home from war. The flight itself was fun and terrifying at the same time. Moments of peace shattered by unexpected moments of violence. When the time finally came to land, I couldn’t figure out how. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to return to the safe, normal place everyone was, I just didn’t know how.
Gretchen didn’t have the reference point to understand that my behavior wasn’t ok at all. Kate knew it was bad but didn’t have the ability to fix it for me.
What I really needed more than anything was another pilot who had flown in the area. He could have gotten on the radio and calmly pointed me to a place with better conditions. He could have reminded me to just keep flying the wing and the bad times will pass.
This is why the Darkhorse Lodge is so important to me. It brings people in rough times together with those who already navigated those rough times. It’s already saving lives during construction. I have no doubts about how effective it will be in the future.
If you’ve ever used a GoPro you know how finicky and battery hungry they can be. Mine started having problems in Smithville so I didn’t get any footage going into Jamestown.
That’s disappointing because the terrain started to get more rugged and it was beautiful. Climbing out of Smithville the air had really started to get active. Until I broke through 2500′ the wind was not in my favor and I had some doubts about making the 56 miles to Jamestown. That changed pretty quick.
My average speed was 38mph, 52 at the highest. My youngest loves the Pixar movie “Planes”. Ok, I love the Pixar movie “Planes”. In it our hero, Dusty Crophopper, has to overcome his fear of heights and get up into the fast moving jetstream to gain time and win the big race. This felt kind of like that. It felt like breaking through a wall in the sky, a rough, slow slog through a few hundred feet of trashy air. Then I could see the terrain starting to slide by faster and my ground speed shot from 15-40 in just a few seconds.
After that I knew I’d make it. I spent most of the next hour at around 4000′. An altitude that used to make me very uncomfortable, but I needed it to get the speed and make the most of the day.
Even up that high it was not smooth air. The thermals weren’t quite as sharp and the wind was pretty consistent but I didn’t have much opportunity to sit back and relax.
Coming into Jamestown the wind at ground level had picked up to 10-15 which made the landing super soft. I just parked about one foot off the ground and stepped down. For a few seconds I had to fight my wing to stop flying but it came down, finally.
This is where I met a young man named Neil. I hope I’m spelling that right. For anyone worried about the capabilities of the current crop of young people, Neil swings the average hard to the positive side.
He was working in a hanger when he saw me walking my motor over to the fuel farm. Immediately he jumped up and came out to introduce himself. He is a high school student and trusted to run the whole place by himself some days, this being one. It didn’t take long to see why.
As I searched for the wallet I lost in my pocket(it was a long morning), Neil pulled out the fuel hose and grounded my motor, then went through the process of activating the fuel pump while I measured oil to mix my fuel.
He saved me time , but more importantly, effort. Afterwards he gave us a quick tour of Jamestown airport. And showed us a very cool two-place powered parachute.
Then it was time to pack up and head out. The ground team started out before I launched hoping to be at Scott for the landing.
Neil helped me carry gear out to big grass island he suggested as a launch area, and I got strapped in. The air had gotten more intense as the day advanced and thermal activity had really started to pick up.
My first attempt was a forward launch, I didn’t think the air was steady enough to pull a reverse.
I got a cravat(wing tip tucked under the lines) on the left side during inflation and I couldn’t shake it out, so I aborted. In the process the wing flipped over as I turned to face it and kite it down. Neil started jogging over to help.
I had practiced this situation kiting several times and really did not want to drop gear, reset the wing, and strap in again. So I snatched the brakes hard, inflated the wing inverted, let the breeze clear the cravat, then pulled left brake until the wing flipped over into a reverse launch configuration. I was pretty proud of that move(yes I’m still a rookie, I can say things like that). Then I grabbed the A’s and pulled off a decent reverse launch.
I got snatched into the air, turned East and promptly had the scariest flight to date. It was just past noon, the thermals were strong and sharp, and there was almost a 90 degree crosswind blowing 15-20 at altitude.
Approaching Smithville the air was getting rougher but the view was tremendous. A pair of Gyrocopters were getting ready to go enjoy the sky as I checked in and started my landing run. One took off as I came in, he was already on the runway, the second waited for me to get down so I did as fast as I could.
I picked out a landing area just past the hangers and got my next surprise of the day. Another paramotor pilot had picked the same LZ.
I came in fast, did a tight 180 and slid it in on my knees. Not the best show to put on for a new friend but I needed to clear the airspace(that’s my excuse anyway).
I picked myself up as he came jogging over and I thought “this is either really good or really bad”. Turns out it was great. He introduced himself as Pat and was as happy and surprised to see another PPG pilot as I was. He offered to bundle my wing and help me hike everything over to his trailer where he had snacks and drinks. Talk about a lucky meeting.
Just as we got to his trailer I got another big surprise. Three amazing friends had driven in from Lancaster, TN to let me have the first cup of Darkhorse 25. What’s Darkhorse 25 you ask? Can’t wait to tell you.
Nicole Sauce is an incredible and crazily diverse human being and entrepenuer. Her skills include podcasting,website development and consulting, homesteading and all that entails, and my personal favorite, custom coffee roasting.
Under the brand Holler Roast coffee, which she roasts from home using very carefully selected and limited runs of imported beans, she has created flavors of coffee that I didn’t know were possible. A wide variety of roasts and methods including a blonde bourbon cooled that was at the top of my list until recently.
Darkhorse25 is a very special roast she developed with Chris, The Tactical Redneck, to honor the 25 Marines killed alongside the Catherwoods son. It is everything you want in good Marine Corps. coffee, dark and strong, but without sacrificing taste to achieve these goals. It is my new favorite. Recurring order put in for as long as it last.
Holler Roast will also be donating $5 for every pound sold to The Darkhorse Lodge. I’d stock up just for the flavor, the fundraising is a huge cherry on top.
After coffee I picked up the Talon and we hiked over to the fuel farm for a fill up. The ground team showed up as we were fueling and I decided to scrap the extra fuel bladder and put a new fuel cap on the main tank. Glad I thought to bring that, and that I had the support to carry the extra equipment.
As we were stripping the extra fuel system another pilot pulled up to use the pumps and jumped out to see the ridiculous machine we were working on. As soon as he heard our story he couldn’t wait to donate to the cause. I lost count of all the incredible people I got to meet that day and it wasn’t even lunch time.
I gladly took a few of Pats snacks and got ready for the next hop. I’ll be looking for any reason I can find to show up in Smithville again.
Having another pilot on hand made launching so much easier. Pat hauled my wing to the launch site and laid it out, leaving me to do the final adjustments and checks before clip-in. I didn’t have to say a word he just new what I needed and knew what I needed to handle myself.
The wind was a little cross, but with a little finesse and a lot of power from the Talon I got moving towards Jamestown in a strong tailwind.
This one may be a little longer than normal. It was one of those very rare perfect flights and I’m not sure how to describe it without sharing all of it.
My first time flying Tullahoma was just over a year ago. Several guys got to watch me blow launch after launch trying to make my second flight. One of those guys, Scott Dowdy, came out to see me off on the run to Smithville.
We met up with him just before dawn and followed him out to the launch area. He planned to fly with me on his trike for as long as he could. It’s hard to explain how much all these acts of support do to keep you going.
There was no chance of finding a replacement O-ring for the fuel bladder so I built a seal out of sandwich bags and electrical tape. Wasn’t sure if I would need the fuel but I wanted to be as prepared as possible.
If you’ve never been there, sunrise at Tullahoma is a sight to see. It’s an aviation town and the airport is everything you would expect from people who love to fly.
There was zero wind on the ground when I laid out my wing so of course it picked up and was 90 degrees different after I pulled out all my gear. Such is paramotoring. Reset the wing, warmup the Talon, said goodbyes to everyone. And blow the first launch.
Reset, gear up, clip in and hit it again. On round 2 everything went perfect. I circled back to wave then got out of Scotts way.
I kept my trims in and tried to fly slow during climb out to wait for Scott but I wanted to clear the airspace to not be a nuisance. The light wind on the ground rapidly gave way to a ripping tailwind and I was gone. I got a message from Scott saying he was hitting 50mph and couldn’t catch me. I really wanted to turn back to fly with him but I wasn’t 100% on my fuel situation so I pushed on. Thanks again for all the help Scott.
Picturesque does not adequately describe the flight out of Tullahoma. Everywhere you look there is something amazing, for the entire flight. It starts with Normandy Lake just to the North and just gets better as you go.
The air was fast at my back but buttery smooth. Perfect for a cross country flight.
I made much better time to Smithville than I had planned. I even beat the ground team. On landing I met up with some very special people. Some were expected, some were not.
I lifted off at 1000. Winds were still strong from the North so my speed wasn’t great, about 15mph. But that wasn’t the biggest problem by a long stretch. About 15 minutes in I felt a dampness on my chest,odd feeling at 2000′. The fill opening on my fuel bladder had started to leak. Very slowl but definitely a leak. Upon landing I found a nick in the O-ring, but at the time all I knew was I had another leak.
Smoother air was forecast at 3000′ so I continued my climb while I worked this new problem. I found that if I pulled the bladder up fuel drained from the cap and the leak stopped, but that meant I only had one hand to steer. I decided to start my fuel transfer early to mitigate the issue asap. The main tank didn’t have room yet for an additional 3L so I barely opened the valve. Luckily my fix at that connection held up, I was all out of hands at the moment.
The rest of the flight went fairly smooth. I leveled out at around 3200′. The inversion layer I had been chasing was starting to dissipate. Updrafts from thermals were starting to strengthen as the sun rose higher. By the time I made out the Maury Co. airport and started my descent the sky was much livelier. I had to orbit a few miles out trying to lose altitude for awhile. Thermals are great for getting free altitude but they can also lift you up when you just wanna get down.
I did see a dragonfly about the time I started my descent. No idea why a dragonfly would be 3000′ in the air. He probably said the same thing about some guy in a lawn chair.
Finally I got down and made a pretty good landing at Maury Co. I dragged my gear over to the fuel farm, bagged my wing, refueled, and decided it was time to find some lunch.
A very helpful young lady in the terminal threw me the keys to the courtesy car and gave me directions to a great bacon cheeseburger. I was hungry and it was huge.
When I got back to the terminal I got a surprise visit from a great friend. Bryan let me stay at his house during the end of my training last year, so this entire flight(and my addiction) is partially his fault. He just happened to be across town working on a project.
The wind picked up well above my safety margin so flying for the day was done. My ground support caught up with me and Bryan and we decided to make the drive to Tullahoma and our hotel reservations. For some reason they did not like the idea of leaving me to sleep beside the taxiway……women.
In Tullahoma we met up with two more great friends that wanted to take us for Mexican food, can’t say no to that. Nicole Sauce (of Holler Roast Coffee and The Living Free in Tennessee podcast fame) and the Tactical Redneck(Former Marine and Coast Gaurd) are a pair of wonderful humans. They’ve both been big supporters of this effort and on the next flight gave me one of the best surprises of the trip.
I followed a toasty warm inversion layer all the way to Baker. It was a slow ride 10-20mph, but not uncomfortable. Once I found the airport and started descending I hit a layer of air that made my teeth chatter. It’s funny how it can be hot on the ground, warm at 3000′ and frigid at 1500′.
Baker is a pretty small place but perfect for a paramotor, lots of soft grass and space to work with. On landing I set up my helmet to charge strobes and radios then hiked the motor over to the fuel farm. It’s kinda funny ordering 2 gal of avgas.
While I was working on a fix for the leaking connection in my fuel system, a very nice man came out to help. His name was Wayne, a mechanic doing an annual inspection on one of the aircraft hangered there. He offered me free use of any tools or facilities I needed. He also had some great stories about ultralights. At one time he had a helicopter that used a small 2 stroke motor like mine, and he was in process of repairing an ultralight he had recently purchased. This was another guy I could have listened to for hours, but I had to get moving, the ground was heating up and the air was getting rougher.
I said goodbye to Wayne strapped on my gear, including the fully repaired(I thought) fuel bladder and ran into the sky.
I didn’t plan to but I woke up at 4am. way too excited to go back to sleep. Thanks to the Beech River hospitality all my electronics were charged, I was well rested, and had a hot cup of coffee in hand shortly after waking up.
I got packed, returned the keys, and tried to make sure I cleaned up before I left. Hope I didn’t miss anything, the kindness these people showed me can’t be overstated.
Winds weren’t bad at ground level but forecast to be strong out of the North at altitude. It was also a bit cooler, glad I packed some insulation. I laid out my wing got strapped in(including the repaired cursed fuel bladder) and said goodbye to Beech River.
Launch went well. I got hit by a fast moving wall of air as soon as I cleared the trees, this was expected. The goal was Maury Co. about 55 miles to the East. Pretty fast it became apparent this was not happening.
I use an app called PPGPS to record my flight path and help with navigation. It starts automatically when my speed gets above a jogging pace and stops when I land and my speed drops to zero. It restarted more than once. In the air.
Trying to climb out above the worst of the wind I ended up flying backwards for awhile. I found smooth air and my best speed at around 3000′. The day before I averaged 40mph. This flights average would be under 20mph.
After crossing the Tennessee River emergency landing options got pretty sparse, but from my altitude I was pretty sure I could turn downwind and make a good ten miles before touchdown. That’s a pretty big safety margin.
I decided quickly to go for my alternate airport , Baker(0MB) near Hoehnwald. Again started the fuel transfer about an hour into the flight. Luckily (and I’m not sure why) I had put two valves in my aux. fuel line so the night before I removed the faulty one and ran a full bladder through it to test.
Fuel started flowing, VICTORY, fuel drops started leaking from the connector just after the valve and blowing backwards. My exhaust is on that side. Not victory.
I cutoff the fuel and started working this new problem. I wasn’t sure I needed the fuel to make Baker, but I was sure the wind was really slowing me down and it may get worse. I needed to make the transfer happen. I figured out if I just cracked the valve and held the leaking joint with my glove I could slowly move the fuel into the main tank. For the next hour I alternated moving fuel until my glove was saturated and closing the valve to hold out my hand and let it dry. It was really slow and really sketchy but it worked.
It took almost 2.5 hours to get into Baker. Without the extra fuel I wouldn’t have made it.
Thursday Oct 3rd 2019, Everrett-Stewart to Beech River airport. Departure 1730
Winds were intense but from the North so I decided to take advantage and go early. I’m lucky I have great friends who showed up to help me wrangle the wing while I worked with my motor, XC bag, and the cursed extra fuel bladder(more on that later).
I laid out my wing into the wind when I arrived. So naturally the wind turned 90 degrees and strengthened while I got strapped in. Justin Wright reset my wing into the wind and almost got snatched into the air by a gust in the process. It was a no joke kind of launch.
My motor was acting up a little, luckily another friend from the Marine Corps. was there to help sort that out. These guys saved me a lot of time getting off the ground. Time that I needed to make Beech River before dark.
I did a reverse launch and even with the extra weight, got sucked up into the sky pretty fast. I had planned on coming back for a low pass to wave goodbye, the wind I caught just above the hangers decided that wasn’t happening. I was headed South no matter what.
It was pretty rough for the first hour. The wind was gusty and inconsistent, thermal activity wasn’t terrible but it was pretty active.
Beech River is 66 miles straight line. I flew as straight as I could. This was the longest planned leg, and the longest I had ever traveled in one hop. I was counting on my 3 liter fuel bladder as a safety margin. It had a few bugs earlier but they had been worked out and it tested out great on several flights prior to this.
I started my fuel transfer just before passing my alternate airport. The valve failed. Not cool. Now I’ve got 3 liters of tasty fuel ready to feed the Talon and no way to get it there.
Decision time. Do I hit the alternate or push to Beech River? Doing the math on my speed for the last hour, current speed, expected wind direction for the next 30 miles, fuel remaining, fuel burn, and time to sunset told me I had a good chance of making it, but it would be close on time and fuel.
I kept pushing. The wind speed held and as the sun dropped everything smoothed out. I found Beech River with about 20 minutes of fuel remaining and touched down 2 minutes before official sunset. Glad I had strobes.
On landing I met the first of many incredible strangers that helped me along the way. I had planned to roll out a bivy sack and spend the night beside the terminal after refueling, then be up before sunrise to push on. This did not happen.
Beech River was finishing up a board meeting as I was refueling and hiking my gear to the terminal. They looked surprised and a little unsure about the weird guy that just dropped out of the sky on them. Totally understandable.
When I explained what I was doing they opened up immediately. The local mayor was there and had heard Gretchen Catherwood speak about the lodge at a VFW meeting. Most were former military and everyone loved what the Darkhorse Lodge was doing.
I started to ask about being able to get in to wash up before I launched in the morning. Keith Cotton, the airports Executive Director, was way ahead of me.
He gave me a tour of the terminal. The walls are covered with art for sale from Ray Waddey, a local artist. A painting of the Memphis Belle with a piece of the aircraft attached. WWII aircraft with signatures from their pilots, including a German float plane. The detail in his art doesn’t seem possible. Most of his work is available there for $50 each. The special ones are more but I think way under priced for what they are. No images I put here could do his work justice. I digress.
Keith gave me a key to the back half of the terminal so I had a lounge to sleep in, access to the kitchen and most important, coffee maker. Then the key to the courtesy car so I could drive into town if I needed to. Blankets, TV, books, snacks, everything. Then He took me out to the nearest hanger and gave me the door code to store my motor overnight and access to the showers inside. No charge for anything.
Turns out Mr. Cotton is also an R/C aircraft enthusiast. He owns over 50 and is in the process of building 3 more. Including a scale P-51 with an 84″ wingspan and retractable landing gear. Truly Amazing people at this place.
I could have stayed up till dawn listening to this guys stories about aviation, but his wife probably would not have been happy with us. So he made sure I was set for the night and headed home.
I set up all my chargers, had a few protein bars, changed the spark plug on the Talon, and turned in for the night.
I look forward to seeing my new friends again. I will be going back to Beech River.
First I have to say I’m floored by how much support everyone has shown the last few days. I just checked the Facebook campaign and it is almost at $1,500. I had hoped for a third of that. In addition the t-shirts and other donations (including random strangers along the route) put us around $2500 raised, all going to the Darkhorse Lodge. That doesn’t count the help with accommodations, food, fuel, and just moral support along the way.
I’m not saying I ever cried in the air, but leaving Tullahoma I had smooth air and time to read the comments you guys put up. My biggest fear was that no one would be interested in the flight or care about the cause. I was surrounded by the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen, mountains in the distance, rolling hills covered in trees, a train rolling down a valley no one could see but me, and huge lake out front. Gretchen had talked the night before about how much her son loved the outdoors, and I thought about a lot of guys who would have loved this view. Between that and all the words of support from everyone………I don’t cry, but it’s hell trying to hold a heading when your eyes are watering.
So I don’t know what to say to all of you except thank you for backing me on this attempt. I will be back.