I finally got to return to the High Sierra Fly-in this year after missing last year due to having my parachute repaired and inspected. The High Sierra Fly-in or HSF was started by a group of guys who liked to land their airplanes at off airport airstrips and in out of the way places. I joined them a few years in my Rans S6ES. That was why I built it in the first place. Even after I had exchanged my fixed wing for my powered paraglider I still went to HSF. This year will probably be my last but I’ll get to that later.
HSF is held on Flanagan Dry Lake which we call Dead Cow Lake. That’s because the first time our organizer, Kevin Quinn, landed there he came across a dead cow and so the place was called that. Dead Cow is roughly 2 miles wide by 4 miles long. It has lots of room to maneuver and park airplanes. Lots of camping space too. A few of our group purchased property on the northwest shoreline of the dry lake and this is where we camp. The rest of the lakebed is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is open to the public for recreational use.
I left on Thursday morning and made the 5 hour drive to Dead Cow. I took the long way which is on mostly paved roads. There is a shorter route that is pretty heavily washboarded and rutted. I elected to spare my trailer this abuse. It was only about 30 minutes longer to drive the northern route anyway.
The last part of the drive was across deeply rutted roads piled almost a foot deep of fine dust the consistency of talcum powder. I was really nervous about this last portion of the drive even though it’s only two miles or so. My truck doesn’t have 4 wheel drive so I was a little concerned about getting stuck but the truck, even pulling a cargo trailer, did just fine and I made it out on the the playa of the lakebed. The lakebed itself is as hard as concrete and almost as smooth.
I drove around a while looking for familiar faces or a good place to camp. I finally ran across some other PPC’ers at the extreme southern end of the camping area. There was a small “bay” in the dry lake that was a perfect place to launch PPCs. I pulled in next to them and set up camp.
I got done just as the sun was about to set. My windsock indicated that there was ZERO wind and it was 73 degrees. Perfect time to go fly. So the evening I arrived I got to take my first flight at HSF 2018. It was about as perfect a flight as you can get. The only problem I had was I had to run full throttle to stay airborne. After landing I realized I hadn’t changed the mixture in the carburetor but I was now operating at 4000 feet above sea level. I changed to a leaner jet in the carburetor and this seemed to solve my problem.
I flew for a short time with one of the guys I was camped next to, Ryan. He has the exact same PPC as I do, a Six Chuter P3 Lite. (sorry for the blurry photo)
After landing and putting my parachute away I broke out an MRE, heated it up, and had a nice dinner under the stars. There were no clouds and only a half moon so the stars were pretty bright. I had my propane heater on the ground in front of me keeping me warm since temperatures in the desert drop rapidly after the sun goes down. That’s no joke. It was 73 degrees at sunset, by sunrise the next morning it was only 23 degrees!
At sunrise I got up and took care of business. I saw Ryan getting his P3 ready so I decided to go fly too. It was around 8:00am by this time and it had warmed up to about 35 degrees. I had my thermal layer on, a thick fleece, my North Face jacket, and some ski pants on and they were just enough to keep me warm while flying. My nose was freezing though! 35 degrees air temperature and a 35 MPH wind equals about 20 degrees with the wind chill factor. Still it was another great flight. So great that I flew 3 more times that morning! I made several passes over the main part of the camping area to the north. Even though the even did not begin until Saturday, it’s amazing how many planes and campers were already there Friday morning!
All in all on Friday I flew 5 times, two more times in the evening plus the three flights that morning. Here’s a short clip of me flying over the campsites.
I didn’t stay for the entire event however. As Saturday morning progressed more and more airplanes arrived and there was more and more activity over the lakebed. I didn’t feel safe flying my parachute in the area any longer. There were a few other guys there with PPCs but they tended not to wait around for me. I didn’t want to fly alone away from the lakebed very far and I didn’t feel safe flying in the lakebed so I decided to pack it up and head home.
The most worrisome part of getting home was the access road to the lakebed. It was full of that deep powder only this time I was driving uphill to get out. I was afraid my two-wheel drive pickup and cargo trailer would get stuck. However, they did just fine and I was soon out on the main road. Four hours later I was pulling in front of my house.
I really enjoyed this year’s High Sierra Fly in, however, I think this will be the last year I attend. For a few reasons. First and foremost, it is DUSTY! The alkali dust doesn’t bother me too much but I worry about what it does to my machine and parachute. I intend to clean both but still… it’s not good for the machine. The second reason I’m not returning is the same thing that makes the event so awesome… the sheer number of aircraft attending. It’s a crazy awesome mix of Oshkosh and Burning Man. I know a lot of pilots bristle when I say that but that’s exactly what it is. The more aircraft that attend the more chance we have of attracting those who don’t operate their aircraft as safely as we do. If I had a fixed wing airplane still I wouldn’t hesitate to go, however, my slow plodding PPC just doesn’t mix well with the other aircraft. Could it be done safely? Yes. Is it worth the risk? Not to me. Not at this point in my life.
We finish old chapters and start new chapters in life. Doors close. Doors open. It’s not like I’m giving up flying. There are still some really nice (and smaller) fly ins closer to home that are more conducive to my type of flying. I’ll stick to these from now on. I wish the organizers of the High Sierra Fly in all the best and sincerely hope everyone operates as safely as possible.