ST. PAUL, MINN., — When they first named it the World Record Encampment (WRE) last year, the name seemed a little pretentious. Then, lo and behold, with help from weather technocaster, Gary Osaba, records were set. The 300-mile barrier that had alone been the domain of Larry Tudor — who’d, impressively, done it twice — fell not once but twice. • Dave Sharp held the record for mere days before Davis Straub smashed through to log his now-recognized World Distance Record of 347 miles. Both flew rigid wings and Straub was able to retain the title for a whole year. (Are we talking "Internet time," or what? Used to be records stood for years, even decades. No more…!) ••• As this year’s WRE started anticipation was high. Last year, others whispered about and Straub waxed enthusiastic about breaking the 400-mile barrier. Davis was sure it’d be done. The 2001 edition of the WRE started "normally" in the heat-baked terminology of Zapata, Texas — an obscure location now thrust onto the world’s radar owing to the flight accomplishments in 2000. • Indeed, as reported here last month Mark Poustinchian flew to a new world record distance of 369 miles. Alas, like Dave Sharp’s short-lived record, Mark’s mark was only to survive mere days. Then, all hell broke loose. Or at least enough thermals broke loose to allow even longer record flying. ••• After Poustinchian’s flight, the Zapatans hit a wall for a short while, with flight of "only" 200 miles and more. What qualifies for a remarkable flight in some locations may be nothing special out in the vast deserts of southern Texas. Though many personal bests were achieved, much more was expected after last year’s feats and Poustinchian’s flight earlier. For those of us following these exploits, the wait didn’t seem long. • Of all the pilots involved in the WRE’01, one arrival made me sit up and pay extra attention: present World Champ and winner of many contests, Manfred Ruhmer. I was surprised and intrigued to discover he set personal bests out in the desert, with flights well below the 200-mile mark. Guess I just thought he’d already done longer flights given his incredible competition record. At only 147 miles (for his then-longest flight) I wondered if I’d overblown the excitement of his arrival at the 2001 WRE. But wait…! • Indeed, the 400-mile mark fell, and again, it was Davis Straub and his ATOS basking in the limelight. But, somewhat unbelievably, his 650-kilometer flight was not the longest. Ruhmer, whose flight distances had been increasing steadily, finally smashed through the 300- and 400-mile barriers to set a new benchmark for the world of hang gliding. In his flexwing (Icaro, of course), Ruhmer blasted off an amazing 435-mile flight — actually a calculated 700.8 kilometers great circle distance, using the measurement preferred by the FAI. Manfred flew for ten and a half hours and averaged better than 41 mph! STUNNING! My congratulations to all these literal leading edge pilots, even those with mere 200-mile flight! ••• A sidebar to the whole tale suggests that although rigid wings seemed to have owned the record convincingly and once appeared to be the darling of all superlong distance flyers, Ruhmer proved the flex wing — in especially talented hands, anyway — can keep up with the rigids in overall accomplishments. • By now the Zapata "season" has passed, but I don’t doubt that a WRE 2002 will be held and I can only imagine what to expect from it. ••• On the subject of the World Record Encampment, I was pleased to hear from Davis Straub that my article about the 2000 WRE in KITPLANES magazine was read by Lew Adams, an independent TV producer whose work has appeared on the Discover channel (a world-wide cable favorite with many millions of viewers). After discourse with Straub and Osaba, Adams reported that NOVA "has confirmed… commiting to about 50% of the total film budget of $400-500,000." According to Adams, this should be enough for him to create a documentary about setting records in Zapata. At that point, according to Osaba, Adams and NOVA would then be in a strong position to seek a co-sponsor to finish the film editing, background, [and] special effects." Gary continued, "The focus is a one-hour, prime-time piece to be distributed domestically by NOVA with international distribution by the BBC and National Geographic." What fantastic coverage! Such a show could bolster growth in hang gliding. ••• In closing this month, a sad note. Peter Radman of Altair, producer of the John Heiney Predator and Saturn designs and distributor of the ATOS, wrote to say, "This note is to inform you that [on] August 1, 2001, Altair, Inc., ceased operations and is no longer involved in hang gliding manufacturing, sales, or distribution." Bummer! Another U.S. producer bites the dust. The list of American manufacturers is becoming a rather short… from what Bill Bennett once counted (in the mid-1970s) as more than 300 builders of hang gliders. • However, the good news is that "…a member of Altair’s management, Ivan Mrazek, has established his own company, Altair Industries, LLC, and will continue to distribute the ATOS and supply spare parts for the Saturn and Predator," wrote Radman. To contact Mrazek, call 801-814-3812, or e-mail email@example.com. With the continuing success of the ATOS in Class II meets and in cross country flying, it seems Altair Industries has a future even if the flex wing part of the operation is focused only on replacement parts. Thanks for your efforts, Peter; good luck, Ivan. ••• So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930, or e-mail to CumulusMan@aol.com. • All "Product Lines" columns will be available later this year at www.ByDanJohnson.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine