ĎUp, up and awayí
Paragliders plan coast-to-coast trip
By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer
A former, and still part-time, Ketchum resident will be
part of a two-man team that will attempt to paraglide across the United
States this spring.
When thermals and winds donít
cooperate, a pair of paragliding adventurers attempting to sail
coast-to-coast will be aided by 250cc two-stroke engines. Jim Grossman
Jim Grossman, 35, who grew up in Ketchum and now lives in
Boise, will pair up with Will Gadd, 34, of Canmore, Alberta, to make the
unprecedented trip. The two will leave from near Los Angeles on May 1 and,
if all goes as planned, land at Kitty Hawk, N.C., by July 1.
They will be accompanied for parts of the trip by three
other former Wood River Valley residents ĺ Kim Csizmazia, Chris
Santacroce and Othar Laurence.
The team will use small engines with propellers, worn like
a backpack, to gain altitude each morning. They will then cut the engines
and, whenever possible, use thermals to rise as high as 18,000 feet as
they glide eastward. They plan to cover between 50 and 70 miles each day.
According to Grossman, such a coast-to-coast trip has been
accomplished once by a team using hang gliders. They were towed to
altitude each day by a truck with a big spool on the back carrying 3,000
feet of line. Hang gliders have rigid wings, while paragliders have a
flexible nylon canopy like a parachute.
Grossmanís paragliding career began on Bald Mountain in
1989. He made his longest single-flight trip, of just under 100 miles, in
Owens Valley, Calif. He said some pilots have taken off from the top of
Baldy and traveled almost to Stanley, to the north, or Mackay, to the
In 1998, Gadd set the world record for one continuous,
non-motorized flight by soaring 179 miles across Texas.
Grossman said the upcoming trip is partly for the
adventure and partly to raise awareness and funds for raptor preservation
efforts. So far, he said, the team has raised $5,000 for the Peregrine
Fund, based in Boise. He hopes that figure will increase
"dramatically" as the trip progresses.
Paragliders, he feels, are a particularly appropriate
craft to take on such a mission since the sport literally involves soaring
with eagles. Often, he said, paragliders find themselves sharing thermals
with large raptors.
"Youíll be tracking in there with a hawk. Itís
almost as if youíre dancing with them. They teach us incredible amounts
because they are the masters of the sky. Itís they whom we study to
determine how to fly better and faster."
An experienced paraglider pilot, Grossman said, develops a
"nose" to locate the invisible thermals he needs to stay aloft.
"Who knows what that sense is, but the raptors can
Ďsmellí those thermals better than anybody else."
Often, he said, pilots will find themselves "totally
desperate, in a bad situation, and out of nowhere a golden eagle shows up
and shows us the lift we canít find."
Good thermals, he said, allow paragliders to spiral upward
between 200 and 400 feet per minute. Some thermals rise as fast as 1,000
feet per minute, but those pose a risk of developing into violent
"Thatís the danger," Grossman said.
"Trying to just ride the edge and find the perfect conditions that
allow us to go long distances but land before they overdevelop. Weíll be
looking for days when thereís a gradual development of lift and high,
The teamís planned route from Los Angeles will take them
over Mt. Whitney, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, southeastern Utah,
Crested Butte, Aspen and Boulder. If the team is ahead of schedule,
Grossman said, they will spend some time playing around in the Canyonlands.
They will be using their motors, accompanied by a support boat, to fly low
over Lake Powell on the Colorado River.
The route will take them over two areas where the
Peregrine Fund has supported reintroduction of California condorsóSimi
Valley near Los Angeles and the Vermilion Cliffs north of the Grand
From the eastern edge of the Rockies, they will be faced
with the broad expanse of the Great Plains. Grossman said that at that
point, they could just turn on their propellers and motor across the
Midwest, covering 300 miles or more a day.
But setting speed records is not the purpose of the trip.
The pilots will take their time, landing in small communities wherever
they find themselves at the end of the day. They hope to make a lot of
friends on their way across and expose people to a form of aviation
unfamiliar to many.
Grossman and Gadd are planning their route carefully to
avoid no-fly zones over parts of the Grand Canyon, airports and military
facilities, and to keep out of airliner flight paths.
The motors they will be using are 250cc two-strokes, the
same type used to power irrigation pumps. They weigh between 40 and 50
pounds. Grossman said the motors are typically used by paraglider pilots
to just travel along in calm conditions. He and Gadd, however, will be
under power for as little time as possibleósimilar to a sailboat using a
small outboard to leave a harbor before it catches the wind.
However, Grossman said, wearing the motors under windy
conditions will be a little scary.
"Weíve got a gas-combustion engine on our backs
with a propeller attached to it."
To minimize the risk, the two will wear fire-proof suits,
helmets and back protection. They will also have a ground crew with them
for the entire trip.
A meteorologist will be providing the team with daily
weather reports from his home in Kansas. On days when conditions are not
right, Grossman said, the team will stay grounded.
"The goal isnít to fly across the country as fast
as we can. This isnít going out to be thrill seekers. This is going out
to see the country. Itís an opportunity to see the country in a way that
no oneís ever seen it before."