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For the week of April 18 through April 24, 2001

‘Up, up and away’

Paragliders plan coast-to-coast trip

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 don’t cooperate, a pair of paragliding adventurers attempting to sail coast-to-coast will be aided by 250cc two-stroke engines. Jim Grossman photo

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 ¾ 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.

Grossman’s 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 east.

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.

"You’ll be tracking in there with a hawk. It’s almost as if you’re dancing with them. They teach us incredible amounts because they are the masters of the sky. It’s 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 ‘smell’ 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 can’t 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 thunderheads.

"That’s 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. We’ll be looking for days when there’s a gradual development of lift and high, upper-level winds."

The team’s 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 condors—Simi Valley near Los Angeles and the Vermilion Cliffs north of the Grand Canyon.

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 possible—similar 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.

"We’ve 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 isn’t to fly across the country as fast as we can. This isn’t going out to be thrill seekers. This is going out to see the country. It’s an opportunity to see the country in a way that no one’s ever seen it before."



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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.