Ian Ahner, like many of the pilots at the Endless Footdrag, had never heard of the Icarus Trophy. He heard some pilots talking about it just before the briefing, and decided to jump in with both feet. At only 21 years of age, he’s already an accomplished general aviation (fixed wing) pilot who is working on his Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating while attending university for electrical engineering.
His paramotor experience is a bit limited, but he pilots a Parajet Zenith with a Polini Thor200 engine. His wing of choice is the Paramania GTX22. Ian was in it to win it from the start, so he elected race class, grabbed his tracker, and took off at the crack of dawn on Thursday executing a beautiful foot drag takeoff. And here is is, masterfully captured by Adventurists Shane.
He had made arrangements to fly as a pair with Ethan Vance, so as Ethan was suffering through his epic launch shenanigans on Thursday morning - Ian patiently circled above while waiting to depart and yelling obscenities down to the field over the roar of his paramotor.
After Ethan launched, the pair continued on to the lock & dam checkpoint and on to Poteau. Knowing they couldn’t make the next leg to Buffalo Creek, they stopped in Poteau for some AVGAS. They re-launched linking up with Trey German and flew as a trio toward the pass to get to Buffalo Creek. Ian was getting beaten up by the turbulent air. He reported multiple large collapses along the entire flight, (that things where you drop our of the sky) and looking at the pass the ceiling was too low and wind was too strong to try to make the five-mile crossing at this point. They landed out in a field in Summerfield, Oklahoma, to re-evaluate options.
The three decided that the pass wasn’t possible to cross to the south, and they would rather deviate to Red Oak for another fuel stop while they waited for the pass to clear. Ethan suffered a nasty faceplant takeoff, so Ian re-launched and continued on with Trey to make the intermediate fuel stop in Red Oak.
Just as he had Red Oak in-sight, he had an unexpected engine failure and a slightly fun landing to a tall grass field surrounded by large trees. He reported the inconvenient field as being the only option that wasn’t “sketch salad.” As he evaluated his motor he could hear Trey flying on to Red Oak. Ian had a large bubble in his fuel line, and couldn’t find the source - so he decided to re-launch and deal with it at Red Oak.
This was a tough re-launch for Ian. His wing was in tall grass, and the barriers made for a zero-wind condition plus running uphill to launch. He pulled it off on the first try, and made his way over to an open field near Red Oak. Circumnavigating the town, while setting up his approach to the field in Red Oak he had yet another engine-out with an uneventful landing.
His spirits were down at this point. He couldn’t trust his motor enough to continue on, and he couldn’t continue south as the bad weather would not allow it. Rather than electing to drop out of race class and skip a checkpoint, Ian instead hung out in the field for a few hours while evaluating his options. He figured he should hitch a ride back to the fly-in and get his motor running in tip-top shape while waiting out the bad weather.
Ian enjoyed the next day and a half of waiting for the weather to clear and getting his motor ready, and planned to make an early push from the spot that he stopped at on Saturday morning.
He arranged for a ride out to the field, and took off from Red Oak at around 6:30 in the morning Saturday. Weather was more favourable, but still not great. As he crossed the pass to the south toward Buffalo creek, he noted 10mph ground speeds while “standing on the speedbar.” he made it, and in ten minutes managed to refuel and get turned back around heading toward the next checkpoint at Webbers Falls. Here was a literal, as well as metaphorical, turning point.
Ian now had the advantage. With a stiff tailwind he clocked speeds upwards of 50mph heading toward Webbers falls. After crossing the two small mountain ranges, things got a lot less sketchy as he got closer to Webbers Falls. He wasn’t in a huge hurry - at this point he was the only one in the running for the race class title, so he stood on the speedbar and enjoyed the views.
Once he came upon Webbers Falls, he checked his fuel and figured he could skip that checkpoint and go on straight to Tahlequah airport, a mere 27 miles further. The ceilings were lifting, and he was able to get more altitude on this leg and a stronger tailwind - leading to groundspeeds approaching 55mph as indicated by the tracking staff. That's nuts.
Ian took his time in Tahlequah getting some AVGAS and a snack, while preparing for the next leg of the route. At 43 miles, it wasn’t incredibly long, but he was now turning back toward the southeast and back into a quartering headwind. This leg was by far the most uninhabited bit of the route, but at least it wasn’t as mountainous or “sketch salad” as the southern crossings. As long as his Polini stayed running, piece of cake. He was facing a stiff crosswind, and logging speeds of 26-30mph up at altitude. Ian was just “over it” by this point and wanted to get there quick, so he opted for the strategy of going low in valleys and avoiding the higher winds aloft while braving more turbulent air down below.
“You go fast when you're hiding in valleys - I was toe dragging roads”
Once the terrain opened up south of I-40, there was no significant advantage to being down low, so Ian climbed to 1500 and coasted into the finish line.
He made a nice foot drag pass through the pylons, then landed and walked his gear back while spectators congratulated him and showered him with beer.
His official finish time was 12:57pm - which meant that he had won the race division trophy, as no one else received an official finish in race class.
Ian took the win as any champion would - the silent professional didn’t not boast or brag, just took his trophy and moved on with life.
Nonetheless it seems safe to assume that he does not remain unmoved by the spectacle of his Icarus Trophy, joining him at the breakfast table, the lecture hall, his recreational benching sessions. Etc. If you too want one of these in your sorry, sorry little life, you are going to have to fly for it. Can't fly? Pah. Train for it. Can't train? PAH. We'll be back for the online version, for armchair pilots, next month.