Hans was one in a million, and rarely are so many people impacted so profoundly by one.
Whether it be family, neighbors, friends in a sport, or at work, Hans always jumped at the chance to help others. And, he didn't just help, he often pretty much did the whole job himself, utilizing his superior knowledge and mechanical talents. When the water valves in the wing of my Ventus began to leak he designed a fix, fabricated the parts, and did most of the work installing them. Anybody, everybody could always count on Hans.
Where does one start? Perhaps a little history of our interactions is in order. I first met Hans back around 1980. I was already very involved in the sport of hang gliding, especially the cross country aspect. A new face came along, showing great promise with his flying abilities, and his name was Hans. We started sharing the air together, each improving our own skills because of the competitiveness, persistence, and abilities of the other. And, as with all things, luck played a substantial roll in most of our endeavors. It was the beginning of a powerful friendship. We really began to travel and fly together starting on father's day in 1982. Knowing the day was going to be exceptional, i drove to Mingus Mountain to fly, even though I had no driver to chase me. We launched early, and soon a gaggle of gliders headed out east, with Hans in the lead, and Meng chasing in the trusty van (which Hans had custom designed and built the interior of). Derek Howard landed first, short of Sedona, as Hans was climbing out there. Tom fuller and I managed to find a saving thermal low and were climbing as Hans headed across Oak Creek Canyon. I was fit to be tied, with Hans ahead. As luck would have it, conditions were not fully developed; Hans sank in strong down air conditions, and turned back to land in a yard in Sedona. As Tom and I came along, lift had improved a tad, we made it across the canyon with its sink, and then conditions really improved. Now, Hans was fit to be tied.
Meng picked up Derek and Hans, and they agreed to chase the two of us remaining aloft. Being relatively new to hang gliding, Tom somehow managed to get airsick and landed at Merriam crater. Hans, Meng, and Derek caught up with me well into the Navajo reservation, and my long flight was curtailed at the 140-mile mark by strong headwinds coming from a distant storm. Luck and inexperience had brought both of us to the ground for the day, at our respective locations. Hans really should have had the longer flight that day. Luck of thermal cycles and inexperience changed that. Although he wished he had made the long flight, Hans was nonetheless very happy for me, and the ride back was quite a party. As usual, Meng had the van well supplied with enough good food and drink for an army.
Our relationship, and the powerful bond between us, blossomed from there. My wife was occupied at home with our young children, and she had little interest in chasing her husband all over the state in a chase vehicle. Meng, on the other hand, had children who were older, and more capable of spending time at home, while parents were away. And, Meng was also such an incredibly devoted wife, willing to drive chase, and follow Hans to the ends of the earth. She was so much a part of the success of both Hans and myself in the sport of hang gliding. We both owe Meng a tremendous debt of gratitude. She put up with so much, in the way of chasing us, feeding us, and just plain putting up with us. We always wanted to fly farther, and were disappointed to have to land, yet we were always tickled that Meng was there, along with all her good cooking. The Heydrich van was always there when we landed, or shortly thereafter. She was right there when we landed in Cortez, Colorado, at the end of our epic 218-mile flight. Meng handled many a desolate road chasing us, often with harrowing conditions.
Hans and I shared many of the best of times, and some of the worst of times. We were the first (and only) pilots to ever fly hang gliders across the Grand Canyon and the 2nd pilots to ever fly hang gliders past the 200 mile mark. Doing so individually would have been stupendous achievements, but we did both feats together. We took pictures of each other on both flights, and were able to revel together in what we had done. Sharing things is so much better than just doing them alone.
A third, very competitive, person came along, named Jim Grissom, and the three of us (or two, when either Jim or I could not come along with Hans and Meng) pretty much captivated the cross-country hang gliding scene in Arizona for quite a few years. It was a grand time for us 3 musketeers. For over a decade, one or the other of us won the Arizona cross-country hang gliding contest, and sometimes we tied. Hans had the most wins.
And there were so many other grand flights and other experiences we shared. Being invited to the telluride airman's festival to be featured speakers and show photos of our grand canyon flight, hiking mountains together (sometimes with others, too), working on gliders together, having dinner together, just sitting around and talking together. When conditions were not conducive to good flying several of us pilots would often go hike the local area mountains. Just after one of his shoulder surgeries, when he needed to completely clear all traces of anesthesia from his lungs, Hans and Meng came up to Colorado, where Janis and I have a cabin. Hans and i hiked about 12 miles together, to about 12,000 feet, and really cleared those lungs out. Physically, Hans was certainly no slouch, even when injured and recuperating.
We also shared some of the worst of times. One spring day we got into some violent air turbulence above the Estrella Mountains on a cross-country flight, and Hans' hang glider broke up. He came down under parachute, and I was able to land, gather his parachute, and prevent him from being dragged across the desert by the 30+ mph winds. We realized our own mortality that day, and it was a very quiet trip back to town.
At the Aubrey cliffs, northwest of Seligman, on a day we knew we had a 300-mile flight just waiting for us, Hans somehow neglected to hook his harness into his hang glider. It was just Hans, Meng, a young grandson, and I there. Hans crashed violently into a road below launch, but we were able to use the 2-meter ham radio in the van to summon help, which arrived very fast, and he survived. However, it was injuries sustained from this impact that curtailed Hans' involvement in hang gliding, thus funneling him into the sport of flying sailplanes.
We both evolved from hang gliding to soaring, but from there our paths moved apart a tad. A new, equally competitive pilot, came into Hans' life, Tony smolder. Those two would build a bond, much as we had. Hans, being the more competitive of the two of us, continued on with flying competition (very successfully), along with Tony, and I just flew for the fun of it. He won state championships and the regional championship flying very fast, and I was satisfied to just stay high and fly far. We did, however, dearly enjoy flying together, enjoying the magic of flight.
I would like to share a couple of these later times with you. A couple years ago Hans flew his asw-19 glider to Durango on the 4th of July. I had been hiking in the mountains that day and couldn't help but notice the incredible soaring conditions. I just had to get home to call Hans and let him know how good things looked. When we got back to the cabin, my son announced "Hans called. He's at the airport and needs a ride". Once again, Hans was ahead of me. I raced to town, picked him up, and we got back to the lake just in time to watch a spectacular fireworks display. Meng, driving the van with the glider trailer, arrived about 1am. The next day we all hiked, rested, shared dinner, and enjoyed our friendship. And then, on the 6th it was time for Hans and Meng to head back. I went up with a friend, Jim McCann, who owns a motor glider, to "bird dog" for Hans, looking for thermals. It took a few minutes, but Hans did find the good thermals, and headed off towards Arizona. As his glider was only a standard class glider, and he left the area a little late, he had to land at flagstaff, still quite an accomplishment. Once again, Meng was there with the trusty van and trailer to pick him and his glider up.
This year, I called Hans after I had experienced several particularly good high altitude flights in Colorado, explaining that the conditions were probably superb for another flight from phoenix to Durango. Well, sure 'nuff, a few days later, just as i was preparing to lose altitude and head in for a landing, after 5 ½ hours of flight in my Ventus, i hear on the radio "one nine? 6 kilo" . Hans, in his Ventus, was over Chinle, Arizona at 17,900 feet, heading my way. I immediately changed my plan? to staying aloft. Two hours later Hans had run one thermal short and landed about 20 miles south of Durango in a large field. I got his gps coordinates, landed, and drove down to get him with my trailer. Afterward, we enjoyed a late dinner together, and called it a night. The next day we both took off from Val Air Glider Port each in our own Ventus and enjoyed about an hour and a half of air time together. Even though we had gotten plenty high, this time Hans waited for conditions to improve farther along the intended flight path before heading out. I flew with him past Mesa Verde, and then headed back to Durango, as i was tired from the previous day's long flight. Hans made it all the way back to phoenix this time, relying on his well honed experience and some better luck with thermals! A flight he was so very proud of. Little did I know my last comments to Hans that day, as he headed southwest, slowly disappearing into the distant haze, would be so prophetic: "have a great flight home! Adios senor".