Thursday, February 22, 2007

Matty’s Wild Oz Ride

[Down Under Travelblogue from Matt Senior]

With the 2007 Paragliding World Championships being held in Manilla, many of the world’s best pilots are spending their winter flying in the Australian competitions.Photo 1 Photo 1: Conrad Kreick, Semih Sayir & Viv Williams reading the task board on the second task.

The Killarney Classic is the first of three Cat 2 comps leading up to the World Championships in March. Killarney is situated 20 kms east of Warwick in south eastern Queensland, just west of the Great Dividing Range that runs the length of Australia from north to south. Its location provides a great starting place for XC flying, as the area around launch is beautiful and rugged, while providing easy access to the vast flatlands of Australia to the immediate west.

Unfortunately for pilots, the weather this year didn’t cooperate and only one and a half tasks were flown. The first day of competition saw strong winds on launch and most of the pilots in the air finding it hard at times to penetrate the strong, gusty conditions.

Although a small handful of us managed to find some strong cores and climb out to around 10,000 feet and get on course with ground speeds of greater than 75 km/hr, the wind on launch forced the safety committee to can the day.

Day two was almost a carbon copy of day one, except nobody launched.

Day three the winds died down and the task was on. With light to moderate westerly winds in the forecast, a 75 km task to the east-south-east was set. With very few bomb-outs, most pilots managed to get on course. With the arrival of a sea breeze most pilots were on the ground before the 35 km mark; a few pilots who managed to get high and stay high did push out as far as 45 km, but nobody made goal. Seattle’s Conrad Kreick was one of the smart pilots who stayed high and finished the day in 5th place ahead of some of the best pilots in the world.

Photo 2

Photo 2: Looking east at the west launch, across the Great Divide towards Cunningham’s Gap.

Meanwhile, over-development and some wild storms kept most pilots trying to keep their tents from blowing away. The pilots were getting frustrated and the comp organizers, desperate to get another task, rallied us up to launch early to get a start on the next task before it over-developed again. With the weather charts showing incredible upper level instability it was not a matter of “if?” it would OD but “when?”.

We arrived on launch at 10am to blue skies; by 10:30am there were nice looking cumulus clouds; by 11am there were large developments all over the place and by 11:30am one cloud less than a mile to the east of launch started to release a considerable amount of rain. As this cloud was not actually on the course line and avoidable, the day was under way with most pilots getting on course under the shadows of some very dark clouds. With a nice tailwind to the first turnpoint, the first few gaggles managed to avoid the rain and reach about 25 kms from launch before a Q-nim started to release a scary amount of rain directly on the turn point.

Photo 3

Photo 3: Looking east at the north launch, just before the start of the second task as a Q-nim began dropping rain to the left of the course line.

As I was climbing well under a very dark cloud (listening to the safety committee on the radio discussing stopping the task for safety reasons), I started to experience my climb rate increase and my proximity to cloud base decrease to an uncomfortable level, right as a bolt of lightning struck the turn point and the day was stopped. At exactly that moment I began reeling in my ears until I had BIG-big-ears and full speed bar, watching the two pilots to my left disappear into the cloud and my climb rate beginning to increase along with my heart rate. With my ears in further than I have ever pulled them, I was quite amazed to experience this cloud sucking me up at 1,500 fpm. After about a minute of this, I popped out of the lift and started to sink at 1,200 fpm, relieved like never before to find sink.

With only one and a half valid days flown, Gavin Zahner from Queensland on an Ozone Mantra 2 managed to beat world number one Criegel Maurer in second and Phil Hystek in third on a Gin Boom Sport. Conrad Krieck finished a very respectable 6th overall.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tiger Mt. Road Challenges

The front page of this week’s The Issaquah Press features an article about the storm-damaged Tiger Mountain logging road. Cover boy is Michael Miller, assessing the damage, with the headline, “Road to Poo Poo Point remains impassible”. Heather and Michael enjoy a break

Our Club President, Lynn Bentley, recently met with the local paper to discuss the challenges faced by Michael and fellow pilots this season. You can read the story here.

An appreciative “thank you!” to everyone contributing and working behind the scenes to keep the Shuttle operational: Heather Cole of Washington’s Department of Natural Resources, Michael Miller, Tom Allen, Bob Hannah and Lynn Bentley. These photographs capture part of the work done to move the Shuttle across the bridge.

Heather with heavy equipment
Michael with heavy equipment

Bob successfully drives the Shuttle over the bridge

More work for Tom, Heather and Bob

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Tom McCune in Worlds

Tom McCune, long-time Club member, is heading Down Under to compete in the World Paragliding Championships!

As the current nationally-ranked top pilot, Tom will represent the United States with Josh Cohn, Kari Castle and Bill Belcourt. The Championships will be held in Mount Borah, Australia, from Feb 24th to March 9th.

You can read Tom’s story and help him with travel expenses here. A big “thank you!” to everyone who has already donated. “We wish you all the best, Tom!”

Following is the story I submitted to The Issaquah Press.

By Karen Wallman, Editor, Northwest Paragliding Club -

Tom McCune prepares for Paragliding World Championships in Australia in February

ISSAQUAH, WASHINGTON — Tom McCune, Issaquah resident since 1985, holds the top national spot in competitive paragliding. His consistent performance during the past two years in national competitions has earned Tom the honor of representing the United States at the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Paragliding Championships. “I’m looking forward to the challenge and the adventure”, says Tom, who with three fellow United States pilots will compete against the world’s best 150 pilots, some of them full-time professionals.

Australia will host the 2007 biennial event from February 24 to March 9 in Manilla, a small town 200 miles north of Sydney.

For ten days before the competition begins, Tom will be conducting warm-up flights, getting oriented to the Australian summer temperature, local landscape, weather patterns, air currents and overall flying conditions. “I need to get some airtime on my new wing,” Tom says, “which I haven’t flown much because of the recent winter weather.”

The championship will be held at one flying site, Mount Borah, over two weeks. Its format follows United States competitions, which are sanctioned by the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.

Daily race-to-goal tasks are set on flyable days. The tasks include straight-line, triangular and out-and-return flights, typically for distances of 60 to 100 kilometers. Official organizers monitor the weather and decide when to cancel tasks for safety reasons.

After foot-launching from the mountain, Tom will gain altitude, typically many thousands of feet, by flying his paraglider in a circular motion in columns of thermic rising air. He finds thermals by looking for cues such as dust devils, cloud development, smoke plumes and other pilots’ progress.

Without the aid of a motor, Tom will rely on his strong thermalling skills to fly away from the “gaggle” of other wings, which are sometimes nearly wingtip to wingtip. “It can get crowded when 150 pilots are flying around while waiting to start the race, and I like plenty of room to move around,” says Tom. “Being challenge-oriented, I usually fly away from the crowd to find my own source of lift.”

He could “land out”. “The middle of nowhere is merely another adventure,” says Tom. “There is much to see in the world and most of it is away from the main road. Perhaps a local kangaroo will befriend me so I don’t have to carry my pack out.” His flight track-log containing times, turn-point coordinates and landing location is recorded on his GPS unit. The data will be officially scored at the end of each day, earning him daily and cumulative points.

Tom is partially sponsored by the Northwest Paragliding Club, headquartered in Issaquah, of which he has been a long-time member. “It is exciting that one of our own local pilots is representing the US in the World championships,” says Club President Lynn Bentley. “Given the climate in the northwest and the number of flyable days a year Tom can train, it is a testament to his abilities and skills as a paraglider pilot. He is our Tiger Mountain top gun!”

The Northwest Paragliding Club has raised $1700 from donations from members and the local community in an effort to help with the travel expenses of Tom and the other three pilots. If you would like to make a donation online, go to:

Issaquah Press readers might recall Tom’s 30 mile flight from Tiger Mountain to Index in 2001. “That flight to Index is still one of my favorites but I have gone farther and explored much more since then,” says Tom.

Tom’s preferred type of flying is “going cross country”, with his longest flight being 91 miles from Chelan to the Canadian border. “But I had to end the flight early to get to a comp which started the next day. I have spent as long as six hours in the air flying east of Chelan,” he recalls. Tom is very experienced with the Cascades, having flown from Tiger Mountain to Cle Elum, Index, Crystal Mountain, and also nearly Arlington. Still on his list of challenges is to cross Stephens Pass and Chinook Pass.

Tom looks forward to someday breaking the 1997 Washington state distance record of 120.1 miles from Chelan Butte. And even the world-record 263 mile paragliding record set in Zapata, Texas in 2002.

“I’m surprised about my ranking, due to the minimal flying I’ve been able to do, but it is all about being consistently good in competitions,” says Tom, whose recent air-time has been replaced with study-time. He devoted the last year studying at Renton Technical College. Completing his Associates Degree reduced his flying activity, but earned him a 4.0 GPA and Dean’s List recognition.

After returning from Australia, Tom will apply his keen determination to find a job in bodyshop office administration or insurance adjusting. “With 25 years experience in the autobody and refinishing industry, plus my recent management training, I look forward to applying new knowledge to my existing technical background.”

Tom’s son and daughter are extremely proud of their father and excited he has this opportunity to represent the United States. “It’s inspiring to see his accomplishments and dreams fulfilled,” says Tom’s wife Linda. “He’ll be missed while he’s gone. Regardless of the ranking, he’s always #1 to us. Tom rocks!”