Some pilots begin their landing pattern far higher than the normal altitude, or from some unusual place, often from mere sloppiness.  We generally discourage that for several reasons.

First, here at Crystal more than half our flights are for training, whether with an instructor or solo, and it’s tough to develop solid technique for predictable landings while starting from a different point each time.  Those who lack inexperience or currency need practice, and dismissing standard procedure denies that purpose altogether.

Also, other pilots may be nearby, lower but still above pattern height, still trying to stay aloft (I’ve been right there a hundred times).  By entering too soon you could oblige me them to give up and land first, only to pay for another tow.  Perhaps someone is below you in a blind spot – theirs and/or yours – intending to land before you do.  They may never see you and unknowingly cut you off.  Or others may see you but not believe you’re really in the pattern, and so commit to their own approach…

You think we’re overstating this?  True story:  A student once entered downwind 300 feet higher than standard, and while he was arguing that the difference didn’t matter, not one, but two other gliders passed under us at the proper height, supposing we’d follow them in a minute or two later.  Yes, that happened.


If you happen to arrive lower than standard pattern entry height, however, flying a ‘proper’ pattern would only squander precious energy and lengthen the period of increased hazard.  Instead (being careful not to interrupt ordinary traffic!) fly directly to the point where you can intercept standard procedure as high and as soon as possible — even if it means a nice crisp COORDINATED turn to final at 100 feet.  The objective, after all, is to make a safe landing in a safe place.  Nothing else matters.


Practicing the straight-and-narrow of standard landing patterns leaves all that other air space available for dire improvisation in genuine emergencies — for which every self-respecting aviator should develop the flexibility to adapt when necessary.  We do encourage rated pilots to practice unusual approaches when appropriate, but only with communication beforehand.


Earlier, I distributed some nonsense about September being a good time to look for lots of beautiful cloudscapes…  Well now three weeks into the month, we’ve hardly seen a single cloud so far.  While this coming weekend does promise improving thermal conditions, cloud base will be so high, if we do see even a teensy cumulus it’ll be marking some very good (and tall) lift.  And from here on our days will be shorter than our nights, so get ‘em while they last!


Last Saturday, Sean Eckstein soared to Red Lake, Arizona, 65 miles southwest of Las Vegas. Here’s his synopsis of the flight:

I launched just before noon, the thermals in the mountains were topping out around 11K and 12K. Heading towards Las Vegas I had a tail wind ranging from 10 to 19 knots. along with staying between altitudes of 8k to 10k, the miles added up quickly.

I got to Clark Mountain expecting to be higher, but I didn’t hang around to search for more. From 10.5k I could see some clouds to the east and got a report from my crew, Peter (6PK), who was on Nipon road by Ivanpah dry lake, that there was a shear line with dust devils. He also reported that Nipton road was closed, which forced him to drive all the way to Bolder and take the very, very, long way around. Thanks Peter.

I had Triangle airport made with a huge margin, and a shear line on the west side of the river straight ahead on course towards Triangle. This would make my next alternate Red Lake (dry lake) an easy glide.

I got to Red lake just in time to witness the last thermal breaking off, I headed for the next mountain range to the east but the air felt calm. I landed on Red Lake and enjoyed the scenery devoid of human life, and had only a 40 minute wait before my crew showed up.

Sounds like fun! Thanks Sean.  


We’ve fallen behind a bit on shoutouts to our students who make their first solos or pass the check ride and get their glider rating. In recent weeks, Mike Hagowski and Mark Waldrep both ‘re-soloed’ after decades away from soaring.  Also, fourteen year old Ava Caliri made that never forgettable first solo, and John Heston got his private pilot certificate.