“This flight was a dream come true for me. For six years I’ve been chasing the out-and-back world record, and this year, all the pieces of the puzzle finally came together beautifully.” — Owen Morse, hang glider pilot
My friend Owen Morse is one-half of the juggling duo The Passing Zone, and he's also a serious hang glider pilot who just achieved a world-record-breaking long-distance flight. [ WOW. Congratulations, Owen!]
Owen just piloted his Wills Wing T3 154 222.22 miles without stopping, high over the Owens Valley in California, setting a new world record in the sport with Federation Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world governing body for air sports, including hang gliding.
ABOVE: Here's a video of Owen's takeoff and landing.
FAI establishes standards for records and also oversees world and continental championships. For a flight to be registered as a “World Record” it must comply with strict rules. The FAI reviews and verifies the details and evidence of the flight before ratifying it as a world record flight.
So, a real deal hang gliding world record! Quite an achievement.
There is an insanely gorgeous 3D video replay you can watch here. It'll blow your mind to watch him soar and soar, spiraling to catch updrafts that would then send him forward, onward, for hours on end.
Yes, I asked, and he peed twice from the skies.
Below, Owen shares what that was like, in a note originally published for fellow fliers in the hang gliding community.
222.22 Miles in the Owens Valley
This flight was a dream come true for me. For six years I’ve been chasing the out-and-back world record, and this year, all the pieces of the puzzle finally came together beautifully.
My previous attempts had ended prematurely for a number of reasons – thunder storms on course line, a NOTAM due to a nearby forest fire, a harness pitch cord failure, and running out of daylight (another way of saying I had been flying too slowly). It takes a lot of things to go right to have success, and one significant thing going wrong can be the end of it all.
On June 19th, 2020 the winds were forecasted to be light and variable throughout the day at most elevations. Though there were not going to be any clouds along my planned course line, usable lift was expected to be just above 18,000 feet. Only two days before the summer solstice, I knew the number of daylight hours were on my side. The other thing I had going for me this year, was my new wing.
I hook in at 225 pounds, putting me squarely in the weight range for the large wing, but because the summer conditions at my home site (Crestline, California) can be rowdy, for the last decade I have opted for the medium sized wing. But the new T3 has changed all that. With the bearing tips, I’ve found that I don’t get pushed around anymore and I can put the wing exactly where I want it to be. There seems to be some significant turbulence dampening too, so this year I stepped back up to the 154, and I couldn’t be happier.
I launched Walt’s Point (elev: 9,300 feet) as early as I thought reasonable (9:41am Pacific time). Though I found lift right away, I wasn’t able to climb above 10,500 feet as the westerly winds seemed to be blowing the light lift apart. Wishing I could depart the mountain above 11,500 feet (but fearing that I was burning daylight) I pushed east to tag my start/finish waypoint in the valley along highway 395. From the moment I left the mountain, and until I returned, my vario was silent. Though expected, it was unsettling to be looking up the side of the Sierra Nevada range from 7,000 feet. It was a long slog to get reestablished, but my patience was finally rewarded with a climb that put me back in the game.
The conditions above 12,000 feet that day were crazy turbulent. Something I’ve learned over the years is that one must RTO. Respect The Owens. There is turbulence in the Owens Valley that will try to eat you alive. For that reason, I chose to stay below 12,000 feet unless I needed to cross a big gap.
After tagging my turn point, rather than turning 180 degrees to head straight back to the Whites mountain range, I faded to the west to play the prevailing winds in order to avoid getting blown east into Nevada.
On my way back south, I climbed to over 17,000 feet at Black Mountain in an effort to cross Westgard Pass successfully. Admittedly, this crossing is an area that I haven’t yet figured out. You will see me struggle greatly here. You may have to avert your eyes, as Steve Pearson did!
Once I got established on the Inyo mountain range, my vario started telling me that goal was just 9.2 to 1 away, and those numbers got better with every mile. Winds were due south at 12 mph so I pushed past New York butte a bit to give myself a crosswind (instead of a nearly headwind) final glide.
This world record wasn’t achieved by one person. Dozens of people helped me along the way, and I’m truly humbled by the generosity of all those who gave of their time and knowledge.
The Owens Valley continues to be an amazing place. Next time you are in the company of a pilot who flew the Owens back in the day, take a seat, and listen to the stories, because there will be some! And if you are ready to make your own stories, RTO and have fun!
And below, here's a video with Owen for serious hang glider nerds, about some of the technology behind the record-breaking flight.
[thanks, Victoria Labalme!]