In some parts of the world, ‘monsoon’ means low clouds and heavy rain, so no, we’re not calling for that. What folks around here call monsoon weather amounts to comparatively more (high) cloudiness than the usual solid blue – plus a bit of heightened humidity. That’s it. So we won’t see any rain at all in this ‘monsoon’, except maybe during a stray thunderstorm. But we will see our share of robust thermal activity throughout, and that’s the important part… See you soon!
A great philosopher once wrote, OBTAIN SUCCESS THROUGH FAILURE, PURSUE CERTAINTY IN DOUBT. Or something to that effect (who knows, I was barely fifty at the time). Point being, failure to try puts your chance of success at absolute zero. What kind of action plan is that?
So kudos to those who dare to try, ‘cause accepting a challenge and learning a ton is what defines success. Diamond distance is a number.
This was the first flight of my second season flying straight out with the Crystal Squadron. Chris was nice enough to launch PK and ES as soon as we were ready a little after noon. A high tow to the familiar second ridge thermals produced an easy climb up the spine of Mt. Lewis. From there South and a comfortable climb topping out at 11,300’ above Throop Peak. PK, now 20 minutes ahead, radioed “no lift over the desert”.
I called down to my crew to proceed to my first alternate, Rosamond dry lake. I pointed ES North and put on my best smile. I reminded myself not to stop for the inevitable sucker thermals over the desert. I arrived at Silver Queen at 5200’, low but with enough altitude to give it a try or two. Above the windmills, West of Silver Queen, I hooked up with a nice thermal and climbed to 7900’. This was enough to call my next alternate Mojave Airport, and then Cal City.
On to the mountains West of Cal City, every time I tried the high ground I lost altitude and retreated to the flats where I’d climb. Back and forth I went until after the better part of an hour it finally sank in that I needed to stay over the desert. Another nice thermal and I climbed to 10,000’ above Cal City Airport. Next stop Inyokern.
Forty miles and 6500’ of altitude to work with should be enough. North again, porpoising through more sink than lift. Half way to Inyokern I started doing The Math and not trusting my flight computer. I watched my margin diminish to minus 500’. None of the few land out locations towards IYK were my first choice. On prior flights, with plenty of altitude, these were barely visible. This time I was low enough to really consider them as alternates. Finally, Inyokern Airport started moving up in the canopy as I approached. ES arrived 1000’ over pattern altitude fat and happy.
As I did my landing checklist I realized that I had flown the entire distance from Cal City with my landing gear down. Gulp. I was going to make a pit-stop at Cal City, lowered the gear, then decided otherwise. PK was disassembling below so I decided I’d learned enough on this day. My crew arrived 5 minutes after coming to stop in front of the glider trailers.
On the drive home we stopped for Mexican food at Rosamond Airport. We had a delicious dinner before driving back to Crystal. We arrived to watch a beautiful sunset while we secured our trailers.
Not much to write home about. This Saturday looked as if it maybe somewhat promising after a long wait for descent conditions. Since I have business and family obligations for the next two weekends and it was my turn in the barrel, despite the fact that I been slightly under the weather recently – I opted to try.
The conditions favored the northerly route despite the north-northeasterly wind predictions. Both Bradley (ES) and I launched as promised – thank you Chris – right about noon. I released at the labor camp after a high tow in zero lift and after what seemed as a long search, I finally hooked one almost at the northwest end of the second ridge taking me to 10k.
Shortly after that I headed for Lewis where a nice thermal was marked by Jim Grey ( thank you Jim) which took us to almost 12k. On my way on the long smooth glide – I did not encounter anything until just south of Backus, now down to 6k I was able to climb again and then again over the Silver Queen.
Tip-toeing to the Three Sisters, finally a nice thermal produced a climb above 8k, pushing over to Cache Peak produced zilch ( should have known – the wind mills were not turning), turned tail down to the Barren Ridge/Lone Tree Canyon area and struggled low in light lift in the heat what seemed like a very long time.
Once again started to belly crawl toward Inyokern, and low behold just south of Boomer conditions kicked in and now back to 10k at Boomer in very strong lift. However I decided to throw in the towel as the combination of not feeling great and the low crawling heat started to take its toll on me, landed at Inyokern with Bradley.
Moral of the story; yep if the main instrument is not firing on all cylinders the obvious choice is a no go, better luck next time!
Yes, ’tis the season. We can expect warming temperatures and improved thermal soaring through the weekend, even a touch of ‘monsoon’ conditions with cumulus marking the best lift, and on Saturday maybe a brief spell of overdevelopment in the mountains. Midsummer daydream!
It was one of those inscrutable thunderstorms that threatens to quit and then suddenly intensifies. Everyone was down and mostly put away, and those with any sense had already run inside leaving sweet Juliet our prized 2-32 still out there with one wing pointing at the sky. So I decided to make a show of securing her by myself.
The ’32 is a beast, but a full sized adult can handle one alone on any smooth surface, simply if not easily, by tying one stick back with the harness, using the all-flying tail (held way inboard!) as a handle and pulling her backwards. Arranging that, however, would mean opening the canopy and letting in rainwater that would fog it for a week. I decided to just take a big breath and push straight backward from the nose. That works too, it’s just harder and takes longer because the tailwheel’s down, and on grass it digs in. Warm as it was, getting drenched would be a feature as they say, not some kind of metaphorical insect. Think of it as a zesty swim without the nudity!
I’d been too busy flying to mow recently and high grass concealed the tie down spot, so as I leaned into ‘er my eye was on the windsock a few yards beyond. Then almost there, with both hands and much of my thorax spread all over a big metal cross – X marks the spot – lightning struck that windsock.
Can’t say if it was static electricity, some neurological spasm, or just good old fashioned fright, but every hair stood straight out on end (and back then I had plenty of it).
Poor Juliet was again left to her own fate as I sprinted for shelter. Of course once lightning hits there’s less reason to flee that particular location, but I was already at full speed before thinking of that. As I ran toward our little terminal building, its wide window on the ramp filled with laughing faces of all my alleged friends. I was tempted to rush on inside and shake off on everybody like a wet dog, but instead pulled up outside and stood there hands on hips, smiling in the rain. “Who’s gonna come help me take care of Juliet?”
Soon one, then another, and eventually all emerged, embraced the refreshing downpour and learned another lesson in doing things the right way.
Those same years, I lived in each of two very different ski lodges a mile apart, atop Vermont’s highest mountain. Zappy memos from the Almighty are common up there, naturally, some of which I witnessed within less than a hundred feet. One split a half grown spruce outside my bedroom window, which survives to this day as sad and mangled twins. Another strike very nearly caught me personally — and I was indoors!
We’ll explain that one next time we talk. It’s not a story about flying per se, but mountaintops share some obvious relation, and any pilot who’s not curious about lightning… should be.