When Russ Hustead is flying, he loves it when his engine stops at 16,000 feet. In just a few weeks, he hopes to stay in the air with no engine for more than 2,000 miles.
Hustead flies a two-seat Diamond Xtreme Motorglider. "It's not an airplane," Hustead clarifies. "It's technically a self-launching glider because it takes off under its own power, and then the pilot shuts the engine off."
On June 19, Hustead and fellow pilot, Neal Olshan, will join dozens of other glider pilots as they take off from an airport north of Los Angeles to begin a transcontinental glider race to Kitty Hawk, N.C. The event is part of the 100-year anniversary celebration of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight in 1903.
"This race will include other motor gliders, but most of the entrants will be using single-seat pure gliders with more efficient wings," Hustead said.
"I compare this to entering the Indianapolis 500 with a Volkswagen Beetle Bug -- we don't have the performance of the rest of the gliders."
The pilots will be allowed to reach an altitude of about 3,000 feet above the ground and then all engines must be turned off.
Using the power of thermal lift, the energy of air that is rising, Hustead and Olshan will climb to altitudes of up of 16,000 feet and capture lift along each leg of the race.
"So in essence, our flight pattern will resemble a saw tooth with the plane going up and down," Hustead said. "We've been practicing using sensitive instruments that measure the lift. It's audible to we can actually hear the lift tones."
The final leg of the race will bring the gliders to rest on July 4 at Kill Devil Hills Airport in North Carolina, the site of the Wright Brothers' historic flight.
Hustead owns and operates Sky King Soaring, and offers flight instruction and scenic motor-glider flights from the Payson Airport. For information, call 468-2222, or 602-622-2257
"We don't expect to win this race -- we're here for the spirit of the flight in memory of the Wright Brothers," Hustead said. "Neal and I will be happiest when we are 16,000 feet flying silently on course."