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“You feel the air. You use the air. You interact with the air. It’s much more becoming one with the atmosphere rather than setting this course and pushing these buttons.”
Holding such an elite position in aviation circles has meant rubbing shoulders with such luminaries as Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who gained fame for his heroic Hudson River landing, and Baumgartner. “Pretty heady stuff,” as Utley puts it.
But he speaks most fondly of millionaire adventurer Fossett, who became a good friend while Utley was observing Fossett’s attempts to become the first person to fly a solo balloon around the world.
“Steve was one of the most fascinating people I ever knew,” Utley said of Fossett, who died in a 2007 plane crash. “He was very much understated, no big ego, but a very, very determined person.”
That’s not a bad description of Utley, who has verified how long, how high, how far or how fast all manner of aircraft can go.
Now Utley the record-tracker is about to experience an airborne first of his own.
“I’ve never gone skydiving, but I’m going to because my children bought me a parachute jump for my 80th birthday,” Utley said. “I’ve carried a parachute for 50 years but never used it, thank goodness.”
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643