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 - editor@nwparagliding.com

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: www.nwparagliding.com/TomMcCune

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!”