Boettger Flies 1,400 Miles Without Engine

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FedEx pilot Gordon Boettger on Tuesday set the new high mark for glider flight in the northern hemisphere when he covered more than 1,400 miles surfing a mountain wave downwind of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in his 1972 Kestrel 17. The trip was a 13-hour "yo-yo" flight from Minden, Nev., to Minden, Nev. -- meaning it flew back and forth along the primary wave. But Boettger did have one section of 854 miles without a turn. He ran at ground speeds up to 231 mph, flew as high as 28,000 feet and spent most of his time near the glider's 135-knot Vne. At one point, he was at 27,000 feet at Vne and climbing at 1,000 feet/min. "I could have gone to 40,000 feet. It was that kind of day," Boettger told AVweb. "But ATC had me capped at 28." Boettger said the cap probably kept him below most of the airline traffic as it crossed the California/Nevada border for San Francisco International. Records aside, the flight offers some practical advice for pilots of powered aircraft.

"There's a lot of things a lot of power pilots don't understand," he said. "Around Lone Pine (California), I heard a Mooney call in at 10,500. He was getting pounded down there. If he'd turned about three miles upwind it would have been glass smooth ... go up to 14, and he'd probably been able to shut the motor down and go." An experienced mountain wave glider pilot, Boettger was speaking from experience. As a young man flying a Cessna 172 on a long trip, he intentionally flew the airplane into a mountain wave and saw the vertical speed come up to 500 fpm with the power back. "We got out of it because we thought the engine might get too cold." Boettger flew the trip with 44 cubic feet of oxygen packed to 1700 psi. By the end of the trip he had about 300 psi left. He filed an IFR flight plan for the flight and has filed paperwork that allows his flights. He took off at 6:03 a.m. with a tow to about 8,800 feet MSL, which he says is about 4,000 AGL. Boettger flies with a satellite phone he uses to get weather updates from longtime meteorologist and friend Doug Armstrong, who also updates Boettger's friends with emails throughout the flight.

Click here for statistical details of the flight.