Introducing the Icarus Trophy. The Pioneer Edition.

And then I thought, fuck me, that is the best way of flying around places I have ever heard of. It seemed to me to be unbelievable that no-one had already organised a long distance paramotor adventure like this.

So then we had to.
— Mr Tom

Mr Tom was looking at the skies one day and thought they could use some Adventurising. Then someone gave him a go on a paramotor.

The Icarus Trophy, the worlds first long distance paramotor race launches Monday 12th October. 

The course starts Eatonville, Washington and the finish line is in Valley Springs, California. Thats 1,300 kilometers by road.

Of course, our pioneer pilots can't just fly in a straight line. They have will have to refuel, avoid commercial airports and dodge mountains. And that's assuming the weather behaves. Should be fine, after all the weather tends to be pretty predictable in autumn. 

This is what makes the Icarus bloody tough:

  • The Mileage. It's a damn long way. About 1,300km. In 13 days. 
  • The Weather. Paramotors fly with a motor so they are less reliant on the wind. Slightly less reliant. Imagine taking a kite for a walk against the wind. 
  • The Fuel. The motor part of a paramotor - that needs fuel. It's only your bog-standard petrol, but that won't comfort the pilot who's landed miles from the nearest forecourt. 
  • The Time of Year. We've plumped for autumn. The leaves will look lovely but the weather might be moody. And our pilots might encounter the Santa Ana winds.
  • The Terrain. Among the many other challenges, our pilots are going to have to cross the Cascade Mountains. And skirt round commercial airspace. 

We've been working with an international team to make the Icarus happen. One of our team is Shane Denherder.  He's a paramotor instructor and co-owner of Team Fly Halo. He was UH-60 Blackhawk pilot for an elite Air Assault unit in the US Military. He knows how to get things done.  We asked him for his analysis:

 Shane Denherder. Look into his eyes. This is a trustworthy guy. 

Shane Denherder. Look into his eyes. This is a trustworthy guy. 

When I first heard about the Icarus Trophy, I thought the Adventurists were bat-shit crazy. And I secretly hoped to be involved. Then I got a phone call.

Now the Icarus is only two weeks away. It's going to be tough.

The first challenge: making mileage. 

Earlier this year, I went on a recce to see the lay of the land. It was eye-opening! I expected it would be tough but I was surprised. I made what seemed like a conservative estimate, that I could easily do two 50-mile flights a day. Back home, I could routinely knock out 70-100 mile flights.  

As with all cross-country flights, I’m finding myself busy pretty much every minute in the air making decisions about how to proceed, dealing with excess equipment, and of course – soaking up the views.

No matter how well you plan this long a flight – it’s going to throw curveballs at you every step of the way.”
— Shane, about the Icarus Trophy recce

Paramotor pilots traditionally do distance flights "out and back" or triangles. So they fly both upwind and downwind, which makes their capability pretty predictable. They also only fly on days with favourable conditions. But when you have to fly open distance toward a goal, and you can't pick when you do it. The reality was that without extra fuel I was only doing making between 35-45 per flight.  

Negotiating the Weather

Mileage depends hugely on the weather. is going to be the factor for the pioneers that makes or breaks them. An exceptional pilot, who was absolutely driven could theoretically make the finish line in four to five days with the right weather system in place. But if a cold front moves into the area during that time, then you've got to add on three days to that finishing time. Then we have to consider that there's a handful of seasoned pilots in this event but also bunch of novices who've picked up the sport just for this event: how much is a storm going to affect the average guy who's doing this adventure as it should be done - at a leisurely and conservative pace?

The Weather Again.

The Icarus Trophy is in October. In this area, this is usually the last few weeks of mild-fall* weather before a phenomena called the Santa Ana winds happens. This is a weather occurrence where desert winds blow over the Sierras in southern California, which pushes warm air up the Central Valley for days at a time. The effects can be seen as far north as Central Oregon. If we get a nice dose of Santa Ana winds during the event, it will seriously slow the pioneers down and affect their ability to make it. On the plus side, it will bring warm weather for camping too.

The Weather. Again. Especially Flying Over Tricky Terrain. 

Depending on which path they choose, the pioneers will have 2-3 "crux" moves where a single tank of gas takes them over some very harsh terrain with unpredictable weather. These spots are characterised by a mountain pass with very few landing options should their engine quit (it happens). The real variable here is the weather. For instance, the pass going over Mount Hood in Northern Oregon is a highway crossing over a point of the cascades at about 4500 feet. It's about 40 miles from one end to the other with very few, very challenging, landing options. If a pilot shows up on a clear high-pressure day, all he has to do is climb up to 10,000 feet and shoot across while enjoying the view. Should his engine quit, no problem - just glide out or glide back. But if the weather is anything less than ideal they could be looking at ceilings that only give them '1000-'2000 of terrain clearance. 

Crossing like that would be nuts and we are highly encouraging the pioneers that if they encounter decisions like that - just chat up some good ol' boy at the gas station who has a pickup truck and is interested in your paramotor. Have him drop you off on the other side of the pass, there's absolutely no shame in that.

Flights with an agenda are rarely ever as straight-forward as you plan them.
— Shane

Pilots Better Be Charming.

The Icarus Trophy will be as much about diplomacy as it is about flying skill. Being able to charm the pants off of a landowner to talk them into assisting you is going to be the skill that pays the bills. That, and being able to launch your kit in less-than-ideal conditions without breaking it.

The funny thing about paramotoring is the slow speeds that make traditional flying challenges very easy. Nothing happens that quickly, so it's typically pretty easy to follow along on a map using "pilotage" skills. Success will favour those who can fly three tanks of gas during the day and set themselves up for success with their choices of where to land. I'm hoping everyone is familiar with which airports offer fuel, and have a rough plan of where they're going to stop along the way. Simply taking to the skies and hoping to land at a convenient place is going to be a recipe for disaster.

Those who participate in this event are truly brave souls.
— Shane

So there you have it. Pilots, prepare. Spectators, assemble. It's going to be a cracking ride. 

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*Yeah. He's American. But did you read the part where said he was in the military? I'm not about to correct him. But we all know he means autumn right?