A gravity-defying 761km journey in a hang-glider

Jonny Durand attempts to tame the Texas skies in new hang-gliding project, Chasing Thermals
By Josh Rakic

Jonny Durand staved off 45 degree heat, 90 per cent humidity and picking vultures over Texas desert skies last month in an effort to set a new hang-gliding distance world record.

He flew at speeds in excess of 100km/h and at heights close to 10,000 feet for 10 hours straight. Suffice to say, he ate his fair share of bugs. And camera crews were there to catch it all for your viewing pleasure. See the entire series of short clips and more here.

Red Bull and The Weather Channel documented the epic and at times near deadly journey, which follows Jonny’s preparation for the world record attempt to go beyond the 761km mark set four years ago, and gives viewers an in-depth look at the inner workings and dangers of the sport.

A character in the true sense of the term, Jonny found himself in no shortage of mischief either - including an unexpected run-in with gun-toting farmers and the US Border Patrol.

“That was an interesting one,” Jonny says.

“I landed in a private oil property and ended up with two security guards, three border patrol officers, a sheriff and a state trooper!

“It was a long three-hour ordeal but I got out eventually!”

It marks Jonny’s third big project since 2011, which includes his dual record-breaking flight along the South Australian Coast, Boomerang, and Morning Glory, where he cloud-surfed a rare rolling cloud formation.

Anyhow, we’ll let the multiple Australian champion tell you the rest in his own words...

RED BULL: Tell us about the documentary...
JONNY DURAND: It’s about a weather phenomenon in Texas and a world record attempt for longest flight ever in a glider - trying to break the 761km record owned by Dustin from last time we attempted the 11-hour mission a few years back at the same place. He hung around a little longer than I did. Still a sore point - Haha.

Why Texas and why during summer?
We need strong winds, somewhere around 20 miles an hour. And we need the wind to stay in a straight line for a long distance, which is why we head down to this particular location - Zapata. It’s the way the weather systems work, coming up through The Gulf. It’s hot and dry and it’s at the very bottom of Texas. The wind starts off as a south or south-east and we head north all day up towards Lubbock in central Texas.

How’d the filming work given you were 10,000 feet in the air?
I had a heap of GoPros attached to the glider and there were crews on the ground, and in the air at times, from other aircraft like a motorized glider and drones when I was lower.

We gave ourselves a two-week window and basically how it works is, we sit and wait until the perfect weather forecast arrives. There’s a fair bit of waiting around. Thank god for editing.

Is it true you hit speeds in excess of 100kmh?
With a tailwind of about 40km/h, and the fact I typically glide at 60-70km an hour, means I do hit speeds of around 110km/h across the ground at stages. And the higher the better really. The last time, the highest we got was around 10,000 feet (that's 3km up in the sky!).

Do you ever encounter problems with birds or bugs?
There’s bugs up there and you do get smashed in the face. It’s like being on a motorbike with an open-faced helmet at times. I’ve had big bugs hit me. But no birds. You mainly get them in Australia.

What sort of toll does it take on your body?
It’s a long flight and it takes just as long to drive. I think it was eight minutes difference last time. We’re normally in the air for two or three hours a day during competition. So I’m basically flying four days of competition in one day. But I don’t really take any extra provisions or anything. Just enough water and food. I mainly just hope the guys on the ground find me when I land. It’s like a treasure hunt for them.

 

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