Flight From Leadville To Death Valley Sets Record

Pilot uses flight to draw attention to natural resources overflown along the course.

Kent Holsinger
A happy pilot, Holsinger celebrates a new speed record at Furnace Creek Airport in Death Valley.Courtesy Kent Holsinger

Kent Holsinger learned to fly to fulfill a dream—and he intends to use that skill to illustrate the marvelous landscapes of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California—and the resources they hold—through an attempt at the speed record between the highest airport in the continental United States (Leadville, Colorado) and the lowest (Furnace Creek Airport at Death Valley, California). Holsinger made good on his mission on Saturday, June 2.

The existing record of 147.54 mph (average speed) was set on June 27, 1995, and it took approximately four hours and 13 minutes. Holsinger beat the record in a Lancair Super ES airplane powered by a 310-hp piston engine—at an average speed of 164 mph. The record attempt had been sanctioned by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), which focuses on the art, sport, and science of aviation, and is a member of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

Kent Holsinger
Holsinger departed the Leadville, CO, airport under sunny skies.Courtesy Kent Holsinger

Holsinger waited for nearly perfect weather conditions to prevail along the route, which crosses some of the highest mountain passes in the continental United States, and stretches of desert terrain where water runs scarce, and populated areas—and airports for diversions—are few. Still, snow showers over Leadville nearly threw a wrench in the works. The 528-nm course took him 3 hours, 13 minutes to accomplish. “It was a bit of a cliff hangar at times,” says Holsinger, noting a gap in radar coverage that come down to the wire over Death Valley. “They finally picked me up again at 17,500 [feet] two miles before Furnace Creek. At that point, I was traveling at 3 miles per minute, so literally [I] had seconds to spare before they got me on radar over the airport.”

His video from the return trip highlights the beauty of the land over which he flew, and the resources featured along the way. "These natural resources are vital for jobs, communities, the economy and our nation," says Holsinger. He uses the airplane frequently in his private law practice, a firm specializing in lands, water, and wildlife law.