Alan Case has long had a mission to shoot an arrow farther than anyone else, and the 55-year-old engineer recently attempted the world record. As reported by Smithsonian Magazine, Case took a trip in his minivan this fall to Smith Creek Dry Lake, a former salt flat in central Nevada. He brought his bow on foot, as well as arrows, tools and surveying equipment.

Case draws and drops his bow at the 2015 U.S. Airborne Archery Championships in the Bonneville Salt Plains.

Case was joined in his pursuit by about fifteen friends and family. This attendance pretty much sums up how the niche sport of “aerial archery” has reached the general public. After stretching his muscles all morning throwing practice arrows with his bow on foot – essentially a high powered crossbow that’s held by your feet, pulled by your hands, and pulled while lying on your back – Case got ready to shoot the world record.

This record belongs to Harry Drake, who was a legend in the tight-knit world of flying archery. In 1971, Drake launched an arrow at 2,028 feet (or 676 meters) using a bow that he designed and built himself. It’s the record that still stands today, and the distance Case was trying to beat.

Like Drake, Case designs and manufactures his own arches in his workshop in Beaverton, Oregon. Case also makes its own arrows using ultralight carbon fiber shanks, stainless steel notches, and fragments of safety razor blades as the tail. When used together, the ultra-powerful bow and ultralight arrows form a dangerous and unpredictable combination.

So when Case finally announced to his support team of distance controllers and spectators that he was ready to take the big hit, the atmosphere was understandably tense. With his back resting on the shooting blanket and his face pointing skyward, he placed his feet in the stirrups of the bow and both hands on the bowstring. He took a deep breath, pulled and released the arch of his foot at a 40 degree angle.

What happened next is difficult to explain, in part because it all must have happened so quickly. Suffice it to say that Case’s arrow, which would have traveled at around 800 fps (roughly double the fastest hunting crossbows on the market) did not go further than a mile.

Instead, the arrow went straight to the top of Case’s right foot, breaking a bone in the process. The stunned – and now shackled – archer was immediately taken to a hospital in Fallon, Nevada, where medics treated him.

The next day, however, Case returned with a pair of crutches to Smith Creek Dry Lake, where he found and documented one of the training arrows he had fired before the incident happened. The arrow had flown about 1,823 meters, or just over a mile. So while he achieved his goal of shooting beyond a mile, it did not qualify as a world record on a technical point. But Case has yet to give up: he says he intends to return to the salt marshes when the conditions are right.


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