Eric Rupp, 49, last Saturday flew more than six hours from Hollister, near San Francisco, to the southern U.S. border town of Calexico, some 444 miles away, using nothing but the natural power of thermals and orographic lift, and in the process broke a Bay Area record of 362 miles held by Brian Choate since 2003, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “I was literally flying with hawks and eagles, wing tip to wing tip,” Rupp told the paper. At about 11:20 a.m. Rupp began his flight in a DG-300 sailplane with two other pilots flying separate gliders. Harry Fox and Tom Hubbard would exchange information with Rupp, sharing what they found about where to find good lift. The two other men and Rupp continued together all the way to Santa Barbara, where Fox and Hubbard elected to turn back for home — unlike Rupp, they didn’t have brothers on the ground chasing them with glider trailers in tow. Loren Rupp was on the ground in chase. Somewhere near Bakersfield, Calif., Rupp reported he found very good lift and lost radio contact with his brother who continued with faith for five hours, driving along a pre-planned route. Rupp’s 444-mile flight took him as high as 17,300 feet. He flew with the benefit of oxygen and the aircraft’s natural attributes, a 40:1 glide ratio. Referred to by Fox as an airborne adventurer, Rupp is said to be the kind of pilot who doesn’t mind landing in a remote area and begging a ride home from a truck driver. That, says Rupp, is just “adventure number two.”
Uplifting as Rupp’s flight indeed is, we must report for those unfamiliar with sailplane flying that the longest recorded flights in gliders have exceeded 1,000 miles. One such record stood for almost 20 years. It’s not easy.