A pilot perilous and passionate
BRECKENRIDGE – Larry Hardy is happiest when he’s 30 feet in the air, going 230 miles an hour.
The Breckenridge man flies Formula 1 Midget Mustangs, stubby little planes that pilots race in the desert. But his first love was skiing, a sport that led him to Colorado from Connecticut in the early 1970s.
Breckenridge was barely a town then – much less a world-class ski resort. The only paved road was Main Street, Hardy recalls. Sidewalks were actually wooden boardwalks; there were no stoplights and Peak 9 had just opened for skiing.
“I fell in love with the town,” Hardy said, recalling the rainy day he pulled into Summit County. “I figured if I liked it so much in the pouring rain, it’d be a great place on a nice day.”
He returned to New England to gather his things and tell his parents he was going to spend a year in Colorado – an adventure that turned into more than three decades of his life.
Hardy had 100 days of skiing under his belt when he arrived, and in one season added another 200 to that. He and ski racer C.J. Mueller were roommates and every year quit their jobs on Nov. 15 and skied through the season to the Fourth of July.
Hardy, who skied on the pro circuit from 1976 to 1978, funded his habit by working at the Colorado House – now Fatty’s Pizzeria – as a breakfast cook. He also worked in construction and as a ski shop manager. These days, he works as a general contractor as the owner of Breko Enterprises.
It was summer in Connecticut when Hardy’s love affair with flying blossomed.
“I always had a fascination with airplanes,” he said. “I always wanted to fly. I’d considered aviation school, but at 20, what do you know?”
Every day he passed a sign near the airport: Learn to Fly: $25. The first lesson was a 20-minute flight during which the instructor allowed Hardy to taxi, fly and land the plane.
“I said, “This is it. This is it for me,'” Hardy recalled. “”I have to sign up for the class.'”
He returned to Breckenridge and began building a plane of his own.
“I wanted the fastest, most fun airplane for the dollar,” Hardy said. “I was going to build it a little bit at a time until it was ready. I’ve been building it for 21 years. I never realized it would take that long. I’m so close, I have to finish it. It’s become a mission. It might fly this winter.”
He met and married his wife, Carrie, in 1983, and, to her chagrin, began skiing a little less and flying a little more.
“It’s a nice sit-down job, and I can still go really fast,” Hardy said.
His ultimate goal is to race in the desert outside Reno, Nev., in an annual event in which pilots zip around a 3-mile oval at speeds in excess of 200 mph. Qualifying, Hardy said, is nerve-wracking enough.
“You go up with an instructor, show him you can handle the plane, go through some acrobatics all while other planes are around you,” he said. “You have to be very vigilant, very careful. If you hit someone, you have zero protection. People die. But that adds to the excitement.”
Ready to race
Hardy hopes to compete in his first race next summer. He tried in 2001, but the events of Sept. 11 resulted in airport closures nationwide. Last year, his plane wasn’t ready.
His wife is less than thrilled about it, he said, even though she is working toward her scuba instructor’s certification and trains to dive to extreme depths of 200 to 300 feet.
“That’s just as dangerous,” Hardy said. “She flies currents in the water; I fly currents in the air.”
Hardy’s attitude is that if he’s meant to die flying, he’ll die flying; it could just as easily occur while crossing a street.
“You can’t be scared,” he said. “If you’re totally scared, you’ll never do anything, so why even think about it? If you don’t jump in with both feet, you’ll never really enjoy anything. Calculate your odds, and you can do just about anything in the world.”
Hardy acknowledges it’s a dangerous sport.
“Things happen so fast,” he said. “You have to work up to it. It’s a combination of the airplane, pilot skills, nerve and the competitive edge.
“That’s the reason I got into it,” he added. “As I change physically with age, that competitive edge is still there. This is a way of fulfilling that.”
Next year, he and four friends will create an aviation business and fly with their team, the Mountain Flying Angels. Hardy hopes he can eventually make the transition from building homes to building planes.