Soaring Is Learning
Soaring is about learning all the time. Here are some tips on becoming a better soaring pilot. Brought to you by Southern California Soaring Academy.
Soaring is about learning all the time. Here are some tips on becoming a better soaring pilot. Brought to you by Southern California Soaring Academy.
Here’s the debrief on two of the three diamond distance flights flown from Crystal last Saturday, first from Richard Smolinski, on his first straight-out diamond, and then Peter Kovari on his umpteenth:
The day started with nice heat as always. The whole gang decided to start at 10:30 AM and we get ready on the grid waiting for the tow. Chris and his awesome ground crew and pilots made our dreams come through and we were all in the air by 11AM.
I was the last one following ES , C3, SAS and 6PK. I decide to take all advice from team this time and after last week fiasco….full of energy I get off tow at 7.8K in moderate lift. As ES reported lift was only on the second ridge so I stay there and at 12.5K, I was on my way to Rosamond.. To my surprise half way I got nice bump from the sheer line that lift me up to almost 11K so I continued toward Rosamond. Arrived at Silver Queen at 7K found lift in usual spot and was listening to rest of the team chatting ahead of me. I got Cal City in range so I moved toward clouds building on the North. Halfway above 14 another strong convergence lift me up to 11k and I keep pushing as 6PK advised forward toward mountains where above Cross Mt. I got up to 12K and with COSO in range start sailing again. Listening to the others and considering wind direction and strength, I decided to stay away from west ridges and start looking for rotors down the slope where the downwind hit the valley floor. Found energy line which lifted me up to 13K, and followed the wind toward north this time, closer to ridges, trying to climb higher… That was a mistake. First I found lift close to Inyo, but Owens Mt. was 10 kt sink all the way.. Ran fast toward the valley center where I found “steady” rotor, for 13k all the way to Olancha, where nice ridge lift got me to 16K. At this point I decided that eastern (downwind) ridges will be better, and moved all the way to east side of valley far before Lone Pine. It paid back well, and at Mt Love I got up to 16K again and from there an easy fast ride to Bishop. On the way, no disappointments, and lift in usual spots, just in the high portion of bandwidth. By Bishop I got 17.9K and started thinking where to go next. Hearing 6PK’s advice I decided to skip Boundary and, having Mina in range at White Mt, I started the long sail there. On the way lots of high and strong lift that carried me to Mina at 15.5K and Luning at 12.5K. I was thinking of Austin but it was getting late and I finally settled for Gabbs, where I arrived at 10K.
I was nice relaxing flight. This day I got two for price of one, My first Crystal SQ. diamond and my second FAI Diamond as well. I was rich and happy man this day.
Lots of challenges and choppy lift, but after all that’s the challenge we love. Thanks to all pilots for their advise and guidance…(Priceless)
= = = = = =
What attracts me to straight-out cross-country flights are the ever-changing conditions. Those flying cross-country out and back or zig-zag are mostly in the same general area, usually up and down in the same mountain ranges kind of like running on the “freeway”. After a while it’s a bit like local flying, but I’m not wanting to diminish other’s accomplishments or recreations, each to his or her own. Straight-out cross-country is strictly my preference.
This particular day was no different with plenty of varying weather conditions and terrain… highly challenging at times and rip-roaring great at others.
Once again, five of us showed up for the day of cross-country flight at Crystal airport. Many thanks to Chris for his consideration to once again allow us all to launch as a group as requested right around 11 a.m.
The forecast for the day was very good but with very hot summer surface temperatures, so the motto was to get high and stay high. What concerned me a bit was the not so pristine buoyancy sheer ratio likely due to strong winds in local spots as well as some chance of O.D. in the general route most of us were planning.
The lift was mostly absent in the usual areas in the San Gabriel’s but very visible in the form of a couple of cumulus clouds popping north of the Second Ridge which helped to quickly take me to 13k and on my way across the desert. I was kind of concerned about arriving low and early around Mojave but there were good thermals near Silver Queen and pretty soon I was heading toward some cloud markers developing near Cache Peak, with climbs to 14k where I was also joined by Dave (SAS) and Bradley (ES) and we soon were heading toward Boomer near Inyokern. This is where things started to get a bit rocky, at least for me. All I could muster is about 12k and I noticed the wind direction starting to change to mainly westerly and at a pretty good clip. I saw as much as 18 kt on my flight computer which Bradley verified as well on his.
I heard SAS fall off the ridge near Coso Junction and I soon followed, as did ES. (C3) Karl hung in the ridge line in an E-ticket thermal and I heard him climb to 14k.
As soon as I got over the valley, I encountered one of the roughest thermals, averaging around 10 kt and taking me back to 12.5k. It was very possibly wave induced rotor/thermal lift although I can’t say I experienced any of the wave-like characteristics associated with this one, upwind or downwind. So I just headed up the valley to the Inyo mountains with a couple of climbs along the way, arriving just over 10k abeam Lone Pine.
The Inyo’s produced the expected lift, but not short of challenges though, all the way along the Whites.
I turned toward Mina over the desert just short of Boundary Peak since there were good cloud markers along the way. It paid off as these clouds worked consistently well, sometimes to 17.999′ all the way to Gabbs, it was a strong run, much stronger than the mountains previously.
Over Gabbs airport another good climb under a cloud got me glide to Austin on a 48 nm glide.
My intention at this point was to try making it to Eureka however it did start to get late in the day. As fate would have it there was a wall of virga right over the hills east of the town of Austin which I need to cross for Eureka, so my plan was out of the question.
Plan B was to turn toward Battle Mountain continuing north but that is a considerable distance given the time of the day. I gave it a shot anyway and called Antelope Valley a previously scouted out dormant field along the way which I did have glide to.
About half way I decided to turn back to Austin as the clouds which were encountered none worked any longer. I landed at Austin where I was soon joined by Karl (C3).
As stated earlier, this was shorter than anticipated but nevertheless a memorable flight with plenty of challenges.
Also, special congratulations to Richard Smolinski on his first straight out diamond to Gabbs!
Here are debriefs of last week’s cross-country flights by Mike Koerner, Sean Eckstein, and Karl Sommer.
Mike’s report (529 miles to Owyhee, NV)
I made it to Owyhee, Nevada on Saturday. Pronounced Oh-why-he, it’s near the Idaho border, north of Battle Mountain.
I launched a little after 10 am and climbed out nicely, but waited for the thermals to reach 11,000 feet, around 11:30, before heading on my way. That seemed like a reasonable choice. I would not have wanted to arrive at Mojave much lower… or earlier.
I made good time on the Sierra but really screwed up on the Whites. With the southwest wind, I could have just ridge soared along the west side. That would have worked brilliantly. Or I could have climbed up on top and zoomed along the crest, as is the norm. I did neither. I guess after several strong thermals on the Sierra, I was expecting a lot from the Whites. When the thermals didn’t deliver, I left them to look for better. But without enough altitude to clear the terrain in front of me, I was left dodging ridges, escaping down canyons and accepting weak lift just to stay afloat.
After finally climbing to 17,000 over Boundary Peak, all these sins were forgiven. From there I followed the best looking clouds to the north.
I came to a decision point at Battle Mountain. At first I tried to go northeast, toward Elko and Wells. But the cloud cover was solid in that direction with lots of virga, and I couldn’t get around it. I looked back to the northwest toward Winnemucca. It was in the clear, but with no evidence of lift continuing into the now late afternoon. Those were places I’ve been before. It took me a while to realize that there were very nice looking clouds straight north, in an area I have never flown over. I checked my data to figure out what was up there. Petan Ranch jumped out at me. That was the terminus of one of Henry’s record flights. Though I am loath to put my sailplane into a ranch strip that I haven’t checked out in advance, just beyond it was Owyhee airport with a 60-foot wide paved runway. Petan would be my emergency backup if the clouds didn’t pay off.
By the time I reached Petan I had Owyhee made anyway, which is just as well since I could not find the airstrip. I see it now on Google Earth, but it barely shows up.
This is my first flight this year where carrying water really paid off!
Fran certainly earned a rest after a long and difficult crew trip – 705 miles, 15 hours into the wee hours of the morning on a dank night with rain and lightning, winding mountain roads with an occasional deer to promote alertness, and finally, a misleading airport road sign which resulted in needing to turn the rig around in someone’s driveway.
Sean’s report (352 miles to Austin, NV)
I made it to Austin, NV. Conditions looked good towards Gabbs and beyond.
Crystal had one tow plane in operation (one down having a new ASI being installed) and the Crystal Squadron, students and rides lined up, Chris got us off quick. I launched at 11:35 and climbed to 11.3k before leaving the mountains. Mike CF and Karl C3 were already ahead and called out a couple of thermals which made my progress easier, thanks. Getting into the Sierras and heading north the altitudes kept getting higher, and thermals stronger.
I crossed the Owens Valley at Mt. Whitney and headed towards Waucoba on the Inyos, leaving around 12k towards the Whites I found myself tightening my straps for the strong gusty thermals on top of the ridge, it took no time to climb to 16k and 17.5k.
Making it into Mina I had Gabbs made with nice clouds ahead, but I also had a wall of gray clouds with virga and thick haze moving in from the west that I was keeping an eye on, Luning dry lake was completely in shadow. I made it to Gabbs and spotted a nice cloud that took me back to 17k which got me to Austin with altitude to spare. Looking further north the clouds were starting to break down and the sun was getting low, so I decided to land at Austin where I was greeted by a swarm of tiny flying insects.
Peter 6PK, my crew, showed up with my truck coated with tiny flying insects. I broke down my glider and we headed to Austin, where everything closes early. I filled up with gas and treated my crew to dinner at the Chevron gas station. I owe you a dinner 6PK.
P. S. kick ass day, fun, fun, fun.
Karl’s report (312 miles to Gabbs, NV)
Dr. Jack predicted a pretty good day, not booming. Left Mt. Lewis 11:47. 11.3k across the desert to Rosamond. 7.0k up to 9k in a thermal Mike announced, then 9.5k Silver Queen, 10k over the freeway to Tehachapi.
Kelso not so good. Microwave tower 10.5k, near Boomer. 10.5k along the ridge moving N, good one abeam Porter Ranch 14k.
Olancha Pk 14.8K at 14:20. I wanted to get to Mt. Whitney but had to peel off at 12.6k. Crossing to the Inyos, talked to 4U. Abeam Manzanar a good one to 14.2k, Tinemaha 15k, Schulman Grove 13.2k up to 17.3. Still short of White Mt., I got to 17.8k near Montgomery Pass and still at 17.5. Time 16:28. Some clouds ahead short of Mina 17.8k but last cloud.
My moving map quit, my bad leg started cramping up. All that cold is evidently no good for older “equipment”. 11k to 15k short of the Gabbs mine and lots of blue in front. 17:22 I called it a day.
Flight time 6:29. Crew happy me happy, good dinner, cool beer, pretty sunset, beautiful star filled night. Morning nice sunrise, wide open space, freshly brewed coffee, pancakes with blue and blackberries.
Ready for the drive home till Bishop hardly any traffic.
Previously, we touched on insects as unwelcome surprises in flight that might be avoided through more careful inspection beforehand — black widows between short little running socks, fire ants in the nether regions… But not all entomological crises are subject to prevention.
I was flying a single ride from the aft seat of a 2-32 (so spacious back there I always feel like a baby in a bathtub) when thoomp, a bumble bee shot in through one of the forward vents. It struck the passenger’s shoulder first before proceeding to carom off everything else in the cockpit. Happens every time.
Bugs appear to go nuts after such an entrance, but put yourself in their tiny little shoes. Going about their everyday buzziness, suddenly they’re sucked through a terrifying worm hole into totally foreign airspace. I’d panic, wouldn’t you? They must be wondering, ‘How’d I get in here and which way out?’ Generally though, if you leave them alone most insects reconnoitre the cockpit once or twice and get the gist, then find a comfy spot to settle down for the ride.
Okay, but a bumble bee? If you fly long enough, you’ll catch many kinds of bugs that way, and my first thought was getting this full-size buzz bomb back to earth in good order would be a catch-and-release trophy! Sure it’s visually intimidating, but that’s partly to engender respect. It too will take care of itself — if we allow it to. And that’s the flaw in the ointment, humans who do go nuts when bugs start whizzing round in a confined space.
This was not some kind of rabid monster determined to assassinate the first person it met, but my passenger saw it as life and death. Whenever the bee flew he tried to knock it down, and every time it landed he’d disturb it. Each fresh assault further antagonized the bee, duh, and not to anybody’s benefit. The only one who didn’t understand this was that maniac in front — we’ll call him the MIF.
When the bee sought greater safety in back with me, the MIF was not satisfied. He pulled out of one shoulder strap and twisted around in pursuit. It tried to hide behind me, so the MIF yanked my hat off and began swatting all around my head and torso, hitting me more often than his quarry…
No, this really did happen. And yes, that’s how far I let it go before grabbing the MIF’s arm like I meant it and doing what I’ve never done before or since: shout angrily at someone in the air. (Mom always said the less often you do it the more often it works, and she was right again.) That smoothed things somewhat, I regained control of my hat and got the MIF facing forward again, but our bee was still on his mind.
It, meanwhile, had perched on the wide cushion beside me for a needed rest. Though rightly indignant at the rude reception, it was ready to let that go in the interest of comity. We eyed each other warily, but when I whispered that I preferred its companionship to this other guy’s, it seemed to nod in consensus.
Soon though, time came to bank a turn, prompting the bee to hop up on the canopy rail for a better view. And that’s when the MIF also turned his head, saw the enemy again, and renewed his moronic attacks.
The bee had no reason to expect further violence now, nor continue to tolerate it. This time both combatants were even more belligerent, and what was once a vast reservoir of patience began escaping like steam from my ears. Open ended conflict might sell viewers on TV, or even buy the votes of fools, but it fits nowhere in my understanding of ‘crew resource management’. Despite genuine sympathy for the bee, I declared a safety of flight emergency and batted the poor thing to the floorboard. It had to be one or the other, the bug or the MIF…
I suppose I could/should have let it lie there stunned, maybe laid my hat over it to pacify the MIF, but who knows how mad it would bee the next time it flew? And what if it remembered which of us most recently knocked it down??
What we all agreed on was that none were cool with this situation, so I, having most control (and least to lose, frankly), decided to end it. With ambivalence that felt downright cowardly – to protect myself from the MIF, not the MIF from the bee – I pulled my foot back and unceremoniously crunched all life from the one of these two who’d become my overwhelming favorite.
Yuck. Finally at least one of us was happy, the MIF now freed to enjoy the remainder of his flight, somehow. But not me.
I could rationalize that the victim was probably too battered by then to survive anyway, but it was really the MIF (and whomever so loosely strapped him in, hint hint) that merited a heel to the head. Our problem was never some pitiable bug; as usual, it was a fool human lacking appropriate self-control.
Which human? You be the judge.
Last week, two Crystal Squadron members flew diamond distance, Mike Koerner, to Beaver, UT (388 miles), and Karl Sommer to Gabbs, NV. Here below, they each tell their story of the day.
I flew to Beaver on Monday after repairing the trailer and replacing my transponder, both of which had been problems the previous week.
It was not a strong day. In fact, I turned around a Calico, intending to land at Barstow, only to stumble into my first real thermal since leaving Lewis. I got above 12K a couple times near Vegas but spent most of the day below 9K and ended up tip toeing into Beaver late in the afternoon.
The new Trig TT22 transponder worked wonderfully, but the interaction with the Nellis controller was less smooth. I had told her I was headed toward Mesquite, but every time I stopped to thermal I would drift with the wind, which was fairly strong. This seemed to upset her, even though it sounded like there were only one or two other aircraft in her airspace. It doesn’t help that I have to turn off the vario and close the vents to hear what she’s saying.
The trailer worked fine too, but Fran was stuck for hours in Vegas again, this time behind an accident. When she eventually got through she picked up something on the road, perhaps from the wreckage, and lost pressure in one of her rear tires. By the time she got to me, around 2am, I was asleep under the wing.
Rather than come straight home, we went on to Denver to visit my son, David, his wife and my grandson.
This weekend Rose took her Sister and Sister in law for a Grand Canyon trip via 3 days Laughlin.
Peter had a B-day party to attend Sean did not find a crew, I was lucky to have Gus, Mike said he will skip this one. Turns out he went on Monday and landed in Beaver, had to wait for Fran till 1 AM today, driving to Denver visiting Son David and family.
So I decided to go N to enjoy the snow covered Sierras on Sunday. (Some squadron, only me)
Got a tow at 11:18 and landed after 7hr 28min of hard work in Gabbs (OLC) where Gus handed me a cool one, before I had a chance to climb out of my cockpit.
Easy climb to 13.4k leaving the mountains crossing the desert finding my low 7k W of Mojave got a good thermal to 9k getting me into the high ground NE of Tehachapi, 12k going to boomer ridge, Mr Boomer was not booming, struggled N when 4U called “I see you, on your left” there he was high and happy 13k I had to look up 45 degrees, bounced along the ridge 9-11k, now that’s better, a bit short of Sacatar 14.2k 2 o’clock and some clouds.
Thought was going up the Sierra, must have picked the fake clouds fell off the Sierra abeam Lone Pine 12k cruising to the Inyos, abeam Mazourka 12.5k enough to fly over the plateau to Black Mtn , Schulman Grove some more cloud activity but I had trouble to stay high enough above ground till the intimidating White Mtn west face, arrived below the peak 13.2k entered a rough thermal that spit me out at 15.3k, kind of scary but felt real good to be high.
Passed Boundary Pk 17:00 15.4k W-wind 17kts, further North last thermal under a good looking cloud 17.2k, Gabbs 73M final glide into the blue with 17kts crosswind until below 12k down to 10kts. Loitering around near Gabbs enjoying the warm sunshine for a while then landing at 20 to 7PM. Glider boxed, drinks and dinner, enjoying the sunset later the stars, we had a good sleep in that cool air at 4700′. At daybreak fresh coffee for the drive back, we met with Barry and Sue in Bishop at the Schatt’s Bakery, Lunch in Lone pine then back to Crystal.