- Sun Jun 17, 2018 3:57 pm
Dinner with Larry in Austin, Nevada.
Larry Tudor’s 212 mile flight on June 23, 1986
Larry Tudor Flies 214 Miles
On July 23 Larry Tudor, flying an HP 170, launched at Horseshoe Meadows in the Owens Valley, CA for an official world record of 214 miles. Tudor landed between the Austin Airport and Austin, Nevada short of a highway intersection which was his declared goal.
The flight was 9-1/2 hours long and he reached elevations of up to 17,000 feet. Tudor was flying with a barograph, had witnesses for landing and is expected to have no problems filing with the FAI.
This flight supercedes his previous flight of 212 miles on June 23, and 186 miles on June 21, 1986.
Hang Gliding Magazine September 1986
Let me be candid right from the start, it wasn’t like I was buddies with Larry Tudor. As a matter of fact prior to June 23, 1986 I don’t think I had ever had a conversation with Larry. We had previously shared the launch at Walts Points a few times along with many others and shared the sky on the path north along the Sierra Nevadas. What I remember is watching the back end of Larry’s glider disappearing on course. He was the Jack Rabbit. I had to laugh at Larry’s comments about how he wasn’t a fast flier like Manfred. Even in the early morning light lift of the east slopes of the Sierras, Larry was not topping out the lift. He would just work the meat, leaving early for the next honey hole and he knew the sweet spots as to where to find the rising air. I tried that on my very first flight from Walts Point years before and was humbled landing just ten miles north at the base of the mountain next to the Whitney Portal road.
June in 1986 I had been in the Owens Hang Gliding for a week and needed to return to Clearfield, Utah for work. The plan on these road trips to and from the Owens was to explore Northern Nevada learning the landscape for flights extending off the north end of the White Mountain Range, so I would try to travel during the day light hours to view the landscape and sky. This was before computerized maps and gps. We had to preprogram the brain with these very real tangible waypoints in the middle of nowhere.
The morning before starting my road trip home I drove up to the launch at Walts Point leisurely watching the morning migration of wings taking flight. With two Sego cans taped to his down tubes for an aerial lunch, Larry was off early in light lift. Instead of working the reliable saddle to the right, Larry worked the slope tightly just left of launch tracking lazy figure eights slowly rising. He would float ten to fifteen feet above our heads over launch. You could see his light touch. He was feeling the buoyant air though his wings. Slowly, patiently as he touched a puff of air, Larry would initiate a graceful turn with a slight push out. We were watching Larry’s courtship dance with the sky. It was truly a beautiful thing to watch. Larry disappeared skyward over the peak of Wonga.
Now, on my way homeward in my 1958 VW Baja Bug, I wound down the Horseshoe Meadows road, through the Alabama Hills to intersect Hwy 395 northward. Top speed was about 65 miles per hour with the single port 1300 VW wound out. Most of the time it was 55 miles per hour. The Baja had great racks securing my glider for the ride home. Just in case I carried a five gallon gas can, a shovel, tool box, and water (for me). Most of the time a temporary fix could be done with a screw driver, pliers, and bailing wire. The Volkswagen was a very simple car, no a/c.
With both windows down, the wind and noise of the engine cooling fan and exhaust kept me company. The beautiful Sierra Nevada’s were on the left while the Indyo’s transitioned into the White Mountains on the right, past Janies, up Montgomery Pass, at Basalt with a left turn to Mina.
Now, north of Mina is what I really wanted to explore. It was the no man’s land between Pilot’s Peak and the southern end of the Toiyabe Range. Out of Mina the Baja Bug headed across the dry lake on Simon Lead Road, then turning into Dump Road veering to the northeast with Pilot Peak off to my right. Pilot Peak would be the last really good mountain lift before crossing the open sand to the Toiyabes. Dirt roads were ahead of me for the next hundred miles or as I found out the dirt road would disappear into a river bed. Twice for four or five mile the road would just drop off into the river bed and then reappear and then disappear again. The Baja slowed to a crawl. This was more like dead reckoning than following a road. There was no vegetation in the river bed. Even in the desert the sage brush was more like twigs. This was a desolate place. Good luck if you had to land out here. Then the road forked into three. I was faced with Yogi Berra’s quote: 'When you come to the fork in the road, take it!'
Remember this was before gps and moving maps. I did have a paper map. I finally ran into the dirt road marked 89 and turned to the southeast. I had on a previous trip taken 89 from Gabbs. I was now looking for NF-018 (National Forest Dirt Road) which I found. This turned me back on course toward the north leading to the Reese River Valley and Reese River Rd., Hwy 21. For thirty miles the dirt road snaked through hills and valleys before opening into the Reese River Valley. Once in the Valley the road was well graded and I could cruise along at 45 miles per hour with each tire skimming the dirt doing the jitterbug. The sun was now getting low in the west. The hills on the left were casting their long shadows across the valley. The bug shadow was still keeping up on the right. Out the rear view mirror was a rooster tail, a plume of dust reaching for the sky. After hours and hours on dirt and an hour in the Reese River Valley alone, the tires finally touched asphalt again. I turned right onto Hwy 2. The bug shadow was now extending off the right front quarter leading the way. I passed the Austin Airport on my left.
In less than a minute after passing the airport, there was what looked like an airport fuel truck parked on the dirt shoulder to the right with the driver walking out into the vastness. Panning in the direction of his intended path was a hang glider. It had just landed, the pilot just now unhooking from the glider. It was Larry. I pulled in behind the fuel truck and was now in close pursuit closing the gap. How could this be possible? It was unbelievable. I had watched Larry launch from Horseshoe this morning and now here he was just outside the roadway fence. The fence was about 30 yards from the road. This was pretty much a blue day. Certainly there was nothing in the sky to get me excited about along the way until laying eyes in disbelief on Larry and his hang glider.
The first thing I said to Larry was, “Jesus, I saw you takeoff this morning at Horseshoe and here you are. I can’t believe this. How could this happen?”
After shedding his harness, Larry retrieved papers from a harness pocket. First order of business was the World Record Witness Documentation. Leaving the glider by the highway perimeter fence, we proceeded back to the tanker truck and all signed the witness papers.
Within ten minutes Larry’s pickup pulled in behind the Baja. The tanker truck proceeded on his way. With quiet precision the glider was broken down and loaded on the mini truck along with stowing the gear. Not much was said between Larry and his chase driver. They both just knew what needed to be done.
It was agreed that we would go to Austin for a much needed dinner. I let the mini truck pull out from behind and lead the way. Once again I found myself following Larry’s glider but this time I could keep up with his chase driver. It was a short ten minute drive into town. The sun had set and there was just a bit of light remaining in the evening dusk. With a left turn to the side street and a u-turn, parking on the street next to the restaurant building behind the mini truck, we proceeded into the infamous dark and dingy burger bar past the bar to the dining tables.
The place was empty on a Monday night. The waitress approached and handed us each a menu and in chorus we requested water. Within a few minutes the waitress was back with the water and ready to take our order. Larry’s driver and I were ready and conveyed our choices. The waitress standing at Larry’s left shoulder looked down in anticipation of Larry’s request, but Larry was still contemplating the menu. This gal proceeded to launch ripping into Larry for not being ready. My eyes panned the small empty restaurant. We were the only customers. Larry offered no defense.
Sensing a great injustice I came to his aid, “Look this is Larry Tudor, he just flew over two hundred miles in a hang glider setting a world record. He was in the air for over nine hours. Come on give him a break.”
Larry’s hands were just barely above the table palms up waving me off and mouthing the word “No”. The waitress spins around and huffs off in disgust. Now in confidence, Larry tells me to keep quiet about the flight. He does not want anyone to know. He may not even submit the documentation for a world record.
Larry finally gets his order in. I figure this is a great opportunity to get intel on Larry’s long distance flights from Horseshoe and ask about the day’s flight. Larry’s description of the flight was very simple. He took off, turned left, headed north, and landed next to the road. “Oh, it was just a normal flight from Horseshoe, nothing special.”
Needless to say I did not get any information out of Larry on distance flying in the Owens and so went the dinner.
I still had over six hours of driving ahead of me to get home. The hour was between nine and ten, so we parted ways in Austin. Back in the Baja Bug, a left turn put me east on Highway 50 with a full moon in my face. After a day of dirt roads, I was happy with a night on pavement and the shortest route to Interstate 80. It was a hard left from Highway 50 on to Highway 278 north, another ninety miles to the interstate. The moonlight lit up the desolation with a shine off the black pavement before me. The valley was open and flat, the road straight, just sage brush left and the right. Finally at Carlin, a wide spot in the Interstate the on ramp put the Baja on 80 heading east. Out across the salt flats there wasn’t even any sage brush, just white smooth flats lit by the moon. In a trance, the night droned on. One more transition, back north on Interstate 15 deep in the night I arrived at the Pepper Ridge Apartments.
I still had to unload my glider and gear in the garage and was thankful for the moon light now from the west. One more climb up the flight of stairs to my third floor apartment, I rolled into the water bed and glanced at the night stand clock, just a little after 4 a.m. I was out.