IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Hundreds of scientists, politicians and students from around the world visit Idaho National Laboratory each year.
But it’s safe to say Trey German, 29, is the first powered paraglider pilot to drop in for a tour of the lab.
“I’m an engineer by trade, I love science and technology,” German told the Post Register after checking out several INL facilities Tuesday afternoon. “I think it’s the coolest stuff, and I think it’s what pushes humanity and the world forward.”
The Houston resident is in the midst of an 1,100-mile paragliding trip known as the Icarus Trophy, from Polson, Montana to Mesquite, Nevada. Participants wear a motor on their back, and are held aloft with a parachute-like wing.
Three pilots are flying with German in the “adventure class” of the event, taking the scenic route to Mesquite. Another three are racing each other to the finish. They took off Sunday morning.
“As I was looking at the route that the race would take, a month or two ago, I had no idea that INL even existed. But I started looking around, and I found these weird buildings,” German said.
One of the buildings he found while scouting the route online was Experimental Breeder Reactor-I Atomic Museum.
“I started doing some research on it, and realized how big of a deal it was, and how fundamental it was to where we are today with nuclear energy,” German said of EBR-I. “At that point, I knew I had to go out there and see this thing.”
German said he reached out to the lab on Twitter, and they were willing to set up a visit for him. The original plan was to fly directly to Idaho Falls and start the tour. But poor weather Monday thwarted his plans. He drove with several members of his support crew from Drummond, Montana, so he wouldn’t miss the start time.
Lab officials showed German around EBR-I, the Advanced Test Reactor, and facilities where nuclear-powered space batteries are built at the Materials and Fuels Complex.
“It was awesome,” he said.
German recently quit his job at Texas Instruments and is now self-employed, developing a set of sensors he hopes could help improve the design of paragliders. He has flown paragliders for two and a half years.
“What I want out of the trip is to have a great adventure,” German said. “And part of that is seeing and learning about some of the culture and history of the areas we’re flying through. So I think coming to INL was a great way to do that.”
German was headed back to Montana on Tuesday night to reconnect with the rest of the adventure class pilots. The group planned to fly through eastern Idaho, then head past Park City and Heber, Utah. After that it’s on to the Moab area, Monument Valley, and Page, Arizona, before arriving in Mesquite midway through next week.
“Given how light we are, we get jangled around quite a bit. We feel all the bumps and the roughness of the air. It can be a little scary,” German said.
On Sunday, German narrowly missed a set of powerlines after descending into a valley outside Missoula, Montana. Coming up, the pilots must clear 10,000-foot windy mountain passes in Utah, where there are few roads, making a rescue nearly impossible if something goes wrong.
“You’re flying through places you’ve never seen before,” German said. “It’s all really new, so you have to be on guard and observant and cautious of the environment and conditions you’re flying in.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.