Saturday, June 21, 2014
After four years of planning and two previous attempts, Michael Combs has successfully piloted his Remos Light Sport Aircraft from coast to coast earning him his sixth aviation world record.
Once Combs shut down the engine of the Hope One in Mount Pleasant at Mount Pleasant Regional Airport, he stepped out before the media cameras and gave a big hug to Ben Wells, the general manager of Landmark Aviation, then turned and kissed the ground, followed by a kiss on the spinner of Hope One’s propeller.
“This is a huge relief and accomplishment,” said Combs as he stood by his aircraft. “We had suspense all of the way down to the end of the flight, from changing our route 30 minutes before take-off on flight day two and a powerful storm system approaching behind us. We actually weren’t certain of success until those wheels finally touched down.”
Taking off from Ontario International (KONT) at 5:27 a.m., Michael and his son Daniel encountered smooth skies and tail winds into their first fuel stop in Chandler, Arizona (KCHD). High temperatures were prevalent throughout the desert Southwest and the two kept cooling cloths around their necks for most of the day in order to find relief. A textbook stop in El Paso, Texas (KELP) brought them well ahead of schedule and winds gusting to 26 knots in Midland, Texas (KMAF) provided some anxiety in bringing the small aircraft safely to the ground. “I wasn’t particularly worried about the winds and landing,” explained Combs. “It was the gusts that we encountered while taxiing that provided the greater challenge as it rocked us around pretty good.”
The first flight day ended with the scheduled stop in Denton, Texas (KDTO) as the two were greeted on the tarmac to a nice gathering of friends, family and well-wishers who raised colorful, hand-printed signs of encouragement and cheers. They ended the day more than an hour ahead of schedule but still didn’t have enough remaining daylight to continue onward.
“That has been the overall challenge in calculating the timing for this flight,” said Combs. “The Sport Pilot license prohibits flying at night, so it has been critical to calculate stops based not only on flight time but also accounting for the chance of unfavorable winds. If conditions were beyond a certain tolerance, then we had to wait until more favorable winds prevailed.”
Flight day two began with predawn rain showers and low ceilings at the first scheduled fuel stop in Greenville, Mississippi forcing Combs and his Mission Control team to plan a different route to the South just 30 minutes before the scheduled time of take-off. The new stop in Monroe, Louisiana (KMLU) was completed with an extra 20 minutes ahead of calculations and the tail winds continued to keep the schedule looking promising as the pair reached Montgomery, Alabama (KMGM).
“We literally sat on the floor of the hangar and cranked out new numbers and fuel-stop options knowing that the clock was ticking toward the scheduled minute of take-off,” said Combs. “We were all running on adrenaline and hope ... which is an interesting experience at 5:30 in the morning.”
The final flight leg was the most emotionally charged flight not only for Combs and his team, but also for those many fans following along. A large storm system building around the Atlanta area was moving in their direction while producing rotating clouds and hail in its path. Climbing Hope One to 9,500 feet wasn’t enough to keep the aircraft in blue skies. Winding around cumulonimbus clouds while watching a storm cell redevelop over the Charleston airport only added to the drama of the moment. “When we were just 12 miles out, we had to deviate around thunder showers. Fortunately, we were well ahead of schedule and had plenty of fuel in the event that we had to divert until the storm cells moved,” said Combs.
But the storms cleared in time for Combs to make his historic landing approximately 34 hours and one minute after taking off from the West Coast. “There are some landings that are more significant than others, and that one in Charleston will always be a fond part of my life.”
Even before Hope One touched down, Combs and his team were receiving comments from those who wanted to learn to fly or were promising to climb back into aircraft at their local airports. “It’s humbling to think of how many people we reach from these flights,” commented Combs. “We average over a hundred thousand hits per each day of flight and are overwhelmed by the support of those who believe in the value of what we are doing.”
With a tear in his eye, he spoke of the great sense of being overwhelmed with knowing that this four-year project was finally completed with great success. “For four years, I’ve been thinking of and planning this flight, altering routes and fine-tuning distances,” said Combs. “It probably won’t hit me that this is really over until I get Hope One back home in Denton a few days from now.”
When asked what the next world record will be for Combs and his Remos, he smiled and said, “We’re already working on it and it will be a fun flight for everyone to follow. It’s an adventure that will really be different from what we have been doing and will reach several groups of people that have shown great support and interest in our flights over the years.”
Visit www.flighths.com to learn more.