We all should know better than to think we’ve seen everything, but I confess sometimes I begin to feel that way. Spring of 2008 in central Oregon is one example. The landscape there is expansive like ours in the Mojave, yet very different. To the west lie a string of 10-K volcanoes snow capped all year, and to the east, high stony desert. In between, the Deschutes River valley is a carpet of vivid green from aloft, billions of ponderosa pines so uniform they look like a thousand square miles of newly mown grass. Grass a hundred feet high.
Down beneath that canopy an open air cathedral, sweetly shaded, disappears beyond sight in every direction. In spring, soft clouds of pollen drift from boughs at the slightest puff, wafting everywhere the full bouquet of God’s own candle shop. Downright heavenly unless folks have allergies; for them it’s just a gorgeous version of hell with extra mosquitoes. Hatchoo.
There’s also a tantalizing visual effect you’ll never see anywhere round here. Early in the day before thermals are soarable, thousands of baby sized pollen devils, bright yellow instead of brown, rise all across the forest. Their multitude does not mean more or better lift, it’s evidence of incipient convection with the strength to raise only pollen, not dust. Gliding over them low, you feel nothing. I proved this, to considerable dismay, more than once.
Real dust devils are totally different. Typically miles apart or in furious clusters at the base of a shear line, they occur mostly during the hottest hours of the day. Dust is comprised of superfine rocks, relatively heavy stuff that requires great energy to be carried high aloft. Pollen is nearly weightless, designed to float in the slightest movement of air. Once above the trees, this super light particulate disperses so rapidly, a dense pollen haze develops below 2000 AGL at the onset of a thermal day. That low-level obscuration is not dense enough to greatly diminish sunlight reaching the surface, but neither does it help.
At the end of one sneezy week, a heavy thunderstorm washed unnumbered tons of pollen from the air and trees and everywhere else it had fallen, all together onto the ground. By dark that evening cars looked as if kids had Halloweened them, and for several days afterward, low spots that collected rainwater held puddles of bright yellow paint. Ah, so much for allergies!
But the mosquitoes? They just fed on that like they feed on everything. Price of doing business.
SCSA will be closed to the public this Friday through Monday 2/23/18 – 2/26/18 as we will be training our instructors and ground crew on our new winch. Many of you are calling and asking when you can get winch training. We will make an announcement through this weekly e-mail and through Schedule Pointe, when we are ready to safely introduce the winch into our operations.
SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!
One day I was asked to take our Baby Grob up on a quick return-to-service hop. Nothing special, just once around and back down so a renter could have the bird for the afternoon. It had been a calmish morning, but by noon the air was rustling more each minute. Situation normal.
The takeoff started sleepy, then by mid-field was barely manageable. During liftoff I noticed a sudden dustup a couple hundred yards to the immediate right — keeping pace with us! What? That by itself seemed worthy of analysis, but things were changing so fast I had no time to think. It would have been wise to release right then, less than fifty feet up, but in fact I welcomed the unique experience.
After two recoveries from slack I knew more was coming, so when another devil bloomed on the right I released and rolled toward it, not 800 feet up. Just then one more sprang from below on the left. Seconds off tow I was diving through sink between two whirlies with zero altitude to spare. No problem, still essentially over the runway with no traffic, I could land whenever necessary. Yet, hazardous and challenging as the launch was, why go back down in the same chaos if I could stay up and avoid it?
A tight turn in just the right spot regained more height than I’d lost, and for half a circle it felt like the real thing. Then came that sucking feeling as my parcel of air was overpowered by a bundle of other pressures and pulled into a sharply different wind direction. Devils were forming and dissipating everywhere, moving opposite directions and changing directions so quickly, there was no keeping track of them.
I watched the towplane disappear moments before touchdown as a jack-in-the-box plume of dust exploded in its path, and sighed relief when it emerged in full climb. A minute later someone came on the Unicom to announce flight operations temporarily suspended. Good, the pilot waiting to use this bird wouldn’t be needing it right away.
For what felt like an hour I darted from one plume to the next, seldom more than a thousand feet above ground while this hyperactive interface between hot air masses swirled across the field. Flying continually from one rotational wind into another, and then another – low – was dizzying. At any point I could have climbed quickly and soared away, but that was not the point. I needed to know more about what was happening here and now, for next time.
As the storm moved on and abated I began to comprehend a bigger picture. This was one of those huge megadevils, the kind you normally see only in the middle of wide lake beds, a rotating ring of ordinary whirlies a half mile across.
Why did it boil up right at Crystal airport, and seemingly out of nowhere? Got me. But since you asked, discrete shear lines intersect often in these parts, quite benignly. On rare occasion though, they powerfully collide in a kind of atmospheric triple whammy. When I’ve been already aloft and that happened, the causes were obvious. Prior to this freak show however, I was on the ground and there were no clouds anywhere until…
Things settled out for a routine landing as the day’s only cumulus formed not far downwind, thank you very much. The flight was brief, never got a mile from the field, but I learned more in those twenty minutes than many whole days sailing high and dry in ‘ideal’ conditions. What more could anyone want?
Winter’s still playing hide ‘n’ seek with us. The experts called for rain yesterday, but no one got the memo. Now we’re back to mostly sunny and springlike with one winter-like concession: we’ll probably see WAVE on Sunday. Of course that’s not an ‘expert’ opinion, it’s only mine – but I was right once before …maybe.