Posted by: quienessupa | June 7, 2011

Zapata 2009 Round-up

Crested-Caracara-F5 Dustin and Laura

**Reposting this on my new blog here.  Originally posted 8/21/2009

Mexican Eagle (tequila version) with Laura and Dustin.  Laura could bust through locked gates in this desert like she owned the place.

Eric Thorstenson on my 9

Think that’s Eric Thorstenson from Oregon above.

Dustin off wingtip4

Dustin Martin in the above picture.  On Gary Osoba’s advice, several non-record days were spent going up early to practice scratching low in light conditions.  Every moment spent in the air here in Texas was valuable practice.  There seems to be a subtle convergence going on all the time.  When clouds would show up, they’d usually be on top of the airport.

After 2 or 3pm, thermals were like looking for hay in a haystack until at least 7pm.  However, in the early part of the day, and below 1,200msl (800agl), they were wide enough for one medium banked circle and that was about it.  For the 10-11am timeframe, it was all too easy focus on LZ’s or get distracted by my inner commentary (which was stuck in a Borat accent for some reason), and just glide straight to the ground.

borat-10So distracting.

What made the difference for me in this hour was scanning for birds.


The Mexican Eagles were ubiquitous and once you noticed one down low, there would often be 2-5 more all team flying.  Amazing snake hunters, always in the best lift, and usually they’d circle with me like one of their own.  On several low glides in the morning, I’d see a bird leap off a tree or already circling and I’m pretty sure these little diversions kept me from gliding to the ground.  It was ideal to aim over the less dense mesquite where the contrast of the dark birds over sandy-colored dirt made them easier to spot.  More importantly, I believe the less dense foliage put out more thermals in the light conditions.  Then there’s the whole landing options benefit too!

I think I had 2, maybe 3 sink-out days where you’re only 18-30 miles from the airport, but it takes 4-7 hours to get back.  It’s just a puzzle of locked gates and permission getting.  Always seemed to work out fine if you had water.

Sunk out day

In the above "sink-out" tracklog, I launched EARLY at 10:03am.  The special thing about this day was the 21mph tailwind!  Maybe if I launched 15 minutes later I would have stayed up?  I’ll never know but the weak lift forecast or weather system at 300 miles would have likely messed things up anyway.

LZ gas

From reading Davis’ account of his 407 mile record, him and Manfred got to where they were only turning in 700fpm or better lift.  BTW, you can read his story and some very interesting history of HG records here:

Some highlights pulled from the SeeYou data for my recent attempts and some open distance world record flights here:

Big Flights Comparison

My 296 mile flight had clouds and a faster average speed in spite lighter winds.  The clouds definitely helped although I got punished by my fair share of dying ones too.. PUNISHED!  A record pace comparison we used was that Manfred was at 100 (Davis at 86) miles by 1pm.  This just blew my mind as 1pm would come and go and I’d be struggling to get 50 or 60miles by then.  The tailwind has greater effect in the early circling/drifting hours I tell myself and then I’d spend the last 6 hours going for broke hoping I could make up time.  The lack of wind or weaker lift or blue sky conditions just weren’t helping.

Zippy and Laura Dustin, Zippy, and I

Laura gave us all a mustache for Authentic bowling night (non-Wii).  In Dustin’s case, a molestache.


1:  Days that the wind approached 20mph made the pre-10:30am soaring trickier.  The perfect scenario that eluded us was the over-running/cloudsuck that could offset the issue, showing/producing lift lines, and the ability to stay high in better lift until the heating gained momentum.

haybale guard

2:  Like Gary says, there’s always some piece of the puzzle that didn’t look perfect on the days when past records were set!  If 4 out of 5 things (wind speed/direction on course, clouds, no storms, strong lift forecast, over-running clouds) are looking acceptable, absolutely go for it.  My standards were lower.  2/5 seemed good enough for me but I like the hail-mary stuff the best and we had to take what we were given.

Woodstock thermaling close

Above, non-record day circling with Pete Lehman in Gary’s Woodstock (super light sailplane).

3.  Something that made a huge difference for me was my newly cut HD vision. After Lasik in April, I got lucky and the doctor says my result is the best they’ve had from that office.  I’m seeing 20/10 now.  I did it for flying and now, in hindsight, I think it’s better than 5 L/D points in glide when you really need a thermal from low.  Be sure to get orbscan and all the bells and whistles if you do it too.  And lay VERY still!


"slowly close your eyes for a moment Mr. Herring so the flap gets put pushed back in place, thanks" f’ing terrifying…2 gliders, looking North

Above, Dustin and Eric gliding South with me.  Looking N along the open distance course-line.  LZ’s? not too bad.


In hindsight, do I still think I have a shot at the 438 mile flight?  Do I want to spend more time/$/sweat for another try?  My best comparison to pick apart is my 302 mile flight.

If I had the 20mph tailwind that Manfred and Davis had to set the current records, or more, I’m almost there.  (50-80 more miles)

I think stronger lift like they had could have given me a boost.  (20-30 more miles)

Glover photo shoot

Don’t depend on this guy to bring back dinner…

Manfred’s flight was about 10.5 hours long, mine was just shy of 10 hours.  I think the wet ground in central TX thwarted my shot for late day thermals.  Also, clouds at that time would have helped immensely as the late day thermals get so far apart but are SO valuable with bouyant glides.  With a strobe, I think that launching at 9:45am and landing 30 minutes after sunset (Sunset 8:49 in Big Spring that day) is somewhat possible and in a perfect world would have added about 1hr 40 minutes to my 10hr flight.  (20-100 more miles)

IMG_1665 IMG_1678

Hail-man from yesterday’s hail storm above…

The benefit of clouds would have been great for longer glides and avoiding sink streets.  I remember on most cloudless days I’d wander through SEVERE sink once in a while.  Clouds also could have netted at least SOME time dolphin flying with their easy to see lift and associated sucking making crucial miles tick away.  (0-60 more miles)

So, I think it’s super possible to bust through the current records.  Any 2 or so of the things, like good wind and clouds, or late day luck/bouyancy would have been enough to push my 302 mile flight into record striking distance.  With enough perfect ingredients, I’d even say 500 miles is reachable.  Analysis over, time to look for sponsors, or a job.



Dad (above aka: Benroi) and Gary Osoba really made the successes happen.  Great mentors in life and fun to be around.  I was lucky to get all that time with Dad.  He’d gotten all kinds of border scoop from locals, not to mention invitations to weddings/receptions in his spare time.  Pretty cool that the town knew our names when we left!

911 flyby

Not to mention, his driving credentials are unrivaled.  Here’s a video snapshot of him taking my doors off at 75×2 somewhere between San Antonio and Zapata.  The Garmin Rino 530 Hcx’s were worth their weight in gold.  Dad could "poll" my unit and it worked 43.3 miles away when I was at 6,200ft, him at 1000ft.

10hr flight


Lots of people stress and strain over the stock market’s rise and falls.  Many of these Zapata flights were like packing a lifetime’s worth of market swings into one flight.

I want the open distance record bad.  The hardest thing wasn’t the flying because I’d prepared and practiced for it.  By far, the toughest thing was making a decision to land early so I could try again tomorrow.  After surviving the early morning scratching and making it around the Laredo airspace, the decision to let the day go and land was heavy.  The numbers would say that today’s chance of getting over 400 miles has whittled down to "slim to none", and slim left town.  I equated it to quitting, or admitting that the long-shot isn’t possible.  Time to jump into the world of the working again.  If the stars align again, I’ll be back to Zapata!

Flights:  20

Airtime:  58.6 hours

XC:  1,165 miles

World Records:  50km Triangle in 1hr 40seconds and 25km triangle in 27.5 minutes.  Pending US and FAI "world" ratifications.

Windmill sunset

*afterthought story:

On the 196 mile flight, I was going for broke to try to make up for insufficient tail wind and I was really moving until a high band of cirrus slowed me down.  Then, the low altitude and the hot struggling mixed with a camelbak full of city water (which was supposed to be boiled per the radio alert) and the stress of deciding to let the day go after 7 hours of pushing caused a puking sensation that just retarded my brain into 2nd grade reasoning.  In the hill country, and finally admitting a best case of 300 mile pace, I decided to land just as it was getting strong again.  I went over to the riverbed where I thought the highway was and got there LOW and found the highway wasn’t following the riverbed anymore and was several miles further away.  The urge to puke was so bad for some reason but retrieval options were bad below so I flew over 4 Mexican Eagles while 2 dogs saw me and were blazing across an open field to say hi.  Luckily, I got up and over to the highway and put down between cactus.  Very soarable down there.  Just tried to keep myself together while I broke down in the hill country heat.  That flight/fight will stick with me to help tame my obsession to fly so much.  I hope.  :)  It’s the NEW, less obsessed BJ starting now.  😉

**afterthought story 2


People have mentioned that the LZ’s are intimidating.  They sure are when you drive in.  But, once you get up and look around, they’re fairly abundant.  Above is a good example of the LZ situations out there.  With the strong winds and low altitude, small LZ’s like the gas line patches were great options as well as patchy/smaller mesquite areas.  The above viewpoint/altitude is probably the lowest my morning glides would take me before finding a thermal, or I’d be destined to land in 5-10 minutes of drifting struggle!  Zippy had a save from under 100ft, my best was 230ft (kinda).  Maybe this blog is a world record length now.


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