Glider pilot makes second record flight in four months

The night view of the cockpit of the Arcus glider flying 20,000 feet over Reno.

The night view of the cockpit of the Arcus glider flying 20,000 feet over Reno.
Gordon Boettger | Special to The R-C

Record-setting Minden glider pilot Gordon Boettger and co-pilot Bruce Campbell completed the longest distance glider flight in the world early Monday morning.

While a technicality will keep it from being a world record, Boettger and Campbell flew 1,953 miles over the course of 18.5 hours, the second 3,000-plus kilometer flight for the pair over the past four months.

Boettger is a veteran Navy carrier pilot who flies 777 cargo jets.

Boettger said he can use three of the five turn points in the flight for a national record.

The pair took off from Minden-Tahoe Airport at around 9 a.m. Sunday and flew until 3:35 a.m. Monday when they landed at Hawthorne.

“My goal was to fly 3,500 kilometers, but I was made aware of the weather and looked it up on the radar and I was not able to go further north than Mammoth,” he said of cutting the flight short to 3,143 kilometers. “We diverted northeast out into the desert and tried to keep going north. It was definitely varsity conditions for sure.”

Friends were alerted to come down to Hawthorne to pick the pair up and load up the glider, because flying back was not an option.

On June 19, the pair flew 1,900 miles on the Sierra Wave.

“To me, it’s fascinating using this air mass going vertically to make these flights,” Boettger said. “It still kind of boggles my mind that we can harness that energy to cover those distances.”

The real game changer is the use of night vision goggles to extend flights into the evening, Boettger said.

“I think it’s cool that it has opened the doors to what’s possible in these mountain wave conditions,” he said.

The Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the official record-keeping body for soaring, lists a 1,732-kilometer distance record over three turn points to provide an indication of how much longer Boettger and Campbell’s flight was.

Boettger has been flying gliders since he was 13 years old, folding his 6-foot-5-inch frame into the cockpit.

“I have an inch above my head to the top of the cockpit,” he said. “There isn’t room to stretch out, so it’s quite the claustrophobic feeling. It really kicks in when it gets dark, and you put the night vision goggles on. Just another physical thing on your head. You have to get ramped up psychologically when going from day to night mode.”

Fortunately, there’s a lot to do during a flight that distracts Boettger from thinking too much about that.

“It gets pretty damn cold,” he said. “You’re up at 27,000 feet in an unpressurized cabin with crazy weather conditions down below. But there’s a lot of coordination to keep the aircraft aloft and a lot of stuff going on in the cockpit.”

To complete a long glider flight requires substantial preparation, including coordinating with air traffic control, military air space, packing food and water, a parachute, batteries and oxygen.

“There’s a lot more airline traffic going into Reno, which is starting to add some complications,” he said. “They’re very helpful working with me.”

The impact of the flight often doesn’t settle in until after he’s on the ground.

“It kicks in after the flight when you realize how a lot of things can go wrong,” he said. “Preparation is the key, and a little bit of keeping your fingers crossed and hope it all comes out right.”

While setting a new record is nice, Boettger said Thursday his goal is to show what’s possible for a glider.

“I want to expand the whole boundaries of what’s possible in the soaring world,” he said. “It’s a new arena getting a lot of attention.”


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