The Barron Hilton Cup – Our greatest soaring adventure

Ronnie said I should do some blogs about our soaring adventures. We’ve had so many great soaring experiences that I didn’t know  where to start. I decided, finally,  to begin with the very best one. Getting there took years of trying and it is my ultimate achievement in soaring. The Barron Hilton Cup is no longer awarded but for over 25 years, it was a once in a lifetime dream for glider pilots the world over.

The prize was a week for you and your guest to spend with Barron Hilton at his Flying M Ranch in a remote high desert area of Nevada flying gliders every day. Mr. Hilton was the son and successor of hotelier Conrad Hilton. He was the Chairman and CEO of Hilton Hotels, maybe better known as the Grandfather of Paris Hilton.

You would be there with some of the most accomplished soaring pilots in the world along with a big group of Barron’s non-flying guests, many of whom were world famous. Meals and accommodations were first class, as you would expect from the world’s most gracious  host,  Barron Hilton. On top of that, it is generally acknowledged that this area with  its high desert and mountainous terrain creates soaring conditions as good as any place in the world.

All the pilots but me flew in, courtesy of Mr Hilton.  During the week they flew the world’s finest gliders provided by Mr Hilton and his friends. We towed my glider out from Ohio. At the time I had a world class glider, a Discus 2, and I wanted to be able to fly it there.

Glider in tow on the way out

After some 20 miles of dirt roads going into the ranch we  saw an oasis in the distance….water being pumped on several hundred acres of alfalfa and then this sign

Sign at entrance to ranch house

It was like being in a dream. Wow, we are really here at this great event and legendary soaring location.

The first morning at breakfast we were joined by a most charming and unassuming man. He put his hand out and introduced himself…”Hi, I’m Cliff”. We knew who he was, Cliff Roberson. We talked about his cameo role in the movie “Spiderman”. He seemed to us like a pretty regular guy.

This award always had two winners from the USA, one from east of the Mississippi and one from the west. The western winner was Steve Fossett, adventurer on a truly grand scale. Here is Ronnie with Cliff on the left and Steve on the right.

Ronnie with Cliff Robertson and Steve Fossett

At cocktail hour one night Steve told Ronnie and I that coming to Barron Hilton’s Ranch was one of his favorite things….he mentioned how much he liked one particular red wine. Sadly, Steve died 3 years later, in 2007, flying out of the Flying M Ranch. And Cliff just passed away last September in his 80’s.

The daylight hours all about flying. After breakfast, all the pilots met to get the weather forecast, hear suggested routes to fly, then go fly.

Getting ready to tow out

I went south to the White Mountains on most days including the one I took Ronnie with me in a 20 meter wingspan DuoDiscus. From the Flying M to the White range is about 60 miles, passing Mono Lake to the west…At Boundary Peak the Whites form a massive high ridge going about 60 miles farther south. Once up atop that ridge it’s breathtaking. The scale of the mountain is so great .Flying at over 100 mph, the mountain below seems to stand still. Am I really up here in a glider? Mountain flying is the most exhilarating of all things I have done.

Over the White Mountain Range

Every morning at 5:30 am Barron Hilton and his arch rival fired up their balloons for the morning race. Had to do this early before thermal activity started.

Getting the balloons inflated at 5:30 am

We had our turn in the balloon with Barron too. With his ever present cigar (and a radio to communicate with his man on the ground).

Our balloon captain with cigar, Barron Hilton

Passing the gliders tied down along the runway awaiting the days flying task.

Gliders ready for the days task

We used my Discus 2, contest ID 77, as the backdrop at the awards ceremony.

Us with our host Mr. Barron Hilton, hotelier extraordinaire

Bill Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut was one of the featured speakers. He took this photo on December 24, 1968 which became perhaps the most famous photo ever taken

Earthrise…taken by Bill Anders, Apollo 8. Dec 24, 1968

The last thing we did before leaving was take a helicopter ride up all the nearby gorges and rivers and as we were driving out the long dirt road to go home he came over and buzzed us. Right then I asked Ronnie what her most favorite thing was about the week…she didn’t even hesitate……..”Barron Hilton”.

You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Brad says:

    great story and photos!

  2. Bob Root says:

    Jim and Ronnie
    That certainly had to be classed as a great adventure, but then it’s hard to beat soaring adventures. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Gary Adams says:

    A dream of a lifetime shared with your incredible Ronnie!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.