Mike Parker may have suffered a few taunts after running out of lift and landing his glider on Oro Valley Country Club’s 14th fairway May 6, but he got even with a vengeance.
Since that failed world record attempt, the Tucson Soaring Club member and veteran of 25 years of serious soaring has set what he believes will be certified as two world distance records.
The Soaring Society of America has confirmed the flights, but the world overseer of flight records, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, must certify them.
“I’m certain, but things do happen, and if something happens, I’ll just go do it again,” said Parker, a semi-retired engineer who founded the local consulting firm Rincon Research.
On May 19 he flew a 350-mile triangle starting and ending at El Tiro Gliderport near Marana Regional Airport, then on May 26 he flew 395 miles from Willcox through three turn points ending in Douglas. Both flights were in the World Class, a category for small sailplanes with a standard design.
The first record almost ended the same as his May 6 attempt, Parker said.
With his altitude failing and no thermals – the rising columns of air sailplanes ride aloft – in sight, Parker was eyeing another golf course near Mount Graham for a potential bail-out after more than eight hours.
“I looked down, and I thought, ‘There would be a bar there, right?’ ” he joked.
Parker is no newcomer to world records. He held these two a decade ago, and decided the time was right this year to reclaim them.
“I thought, ‘Before I get too old, I’ll try to go get those records again,’ ” he said.
The club has enjoyed much success lately. In recent weeks members collectively have placed well in a worldwide competition in which teams compete through flight data compiled on the Internet. The club won the fifth round of the 19-round IGC-OLC World League the same weekend Parker set his second record, and the club was in fourth place out of 255 clubs as of Sunday.
But not all pilots are in it for the competition.
Club member Ali Guvenoz, 70, took up the sport as a teen in Turkey when the government offered free lessons. The retired IBM engineer has been flying ever since, he said Wednesday while preparing for a 90-minute pleasure flight over Marana.
Tucson is ideal for soaring, Guvenoz said.
“We can take off at about 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock this time of year and stay up until the sun goes down,” he said just before releasing one of the club’s four two-seat sailplanes from the tow plane at 5,200 feet.
Though he isn’t shooting for record books, Guvenoz does keep track, as do most pilots, of personal bests. He once climbed to 22,000 feet near Fort Huachuca.
“You could see the ice forming around the window of the canopy,” he said.
Getting to altitude in a sailplane can be accomplished in several ways.
Tow planes bring most gliders up to a few thousand feet, then thermals lift the planes at about 600 feet per minute. Near Willcox the wind pushes up off the mountains, creating the lift that took Guvenoz so high. Some planes have motors – electric or gas – and can take off or climb without aid.
Some pilots get an extra thrill from racing or chasing records, but all of them get a thrill every time they fly.
Chuck Cramer, 80, has been soaring for about nine years just for fun. He has flown all over the country, including the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii; Long Island, N.Y.; and Sugarbush, Vt.
Cramer, who bought his glider for his 80th birthday in March, had a gleeful sparkle in his eye just before taking off Wednesday for a 5 1/2-hour flight.
“Have you ever had an airgasm? Well, this gives you an airgasm,” he said with a grin just before snapping the canopy closed on his new toy.
ON THE WEB
Soaring Society of America: www.ssa.org
Tucson Soaring Club: http://tucsonsoaring.org
IGC-OLC World League online contest: www.onlinecontest.org
IF YOU GO
● What: Tucson Soaring Club
● Where: El Tiro Gliderport, 18999 W. El Tiro Road
● When: noon-5:30 p.m. Wednesday,; 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.Saturday and Sunday,
● The Tucson Soaring Club offers lessons for $15 per hour to members. Membership costs $400 for initiation, then $65 per month.
Glider rental (the club owns six) is free for members with a $30 towing fee (to 3,000 feet) per flight. Guest flights cost $80. Call 575-2500 for information.