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.
Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally,
in a very restricted circle of their potential being.
They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness,
and of their soul’s resources in general.
Emergencies show how much greater our resources are than we had supposed.
When I took primary glider training 42 years ago we discussed emergency procedures once, for a few minutes, but that was it. From there forward, while occasionally wondering what might really happen when ‘it’ hit the fan, I never did get around to procuring more dual.
As time goes on without an actual emergency, a peculiar thing happens. One part of the brain begins to assume it may never occur, gradually diminishing its importance — while another part continues to remind you that eventually it will happen, and each additional safe passage only brings that fateful reckoning one day closer.
My introduction to actual emergencies (like all my training beyond the absolute minimum) ultimately amounted to self-training. OJT, for better or worse. I was already a low-time instructor at that point, with two passengers in the back of a 2-32, and when I tried to open spoilers the handle wouldn’t budge. Turned out the guy on the port side was so big his leg prohibited even rotating the brake handle to unlock it.
Suddenly it was time to try a stunt I’d heard of but never witnessed, the infamous no-spoiler landing. Fortunately ’32s are plenty draggy and easy to land in any case, but they also happen to be very reluctant slippers… Having no choice, I mixed full left pedal with a little right stick to see how it would work. The airspeed indicator was rendered useless by sidewise airflow, but I had long since lost the habit of checking speed on final approach anyway. I just pushed over until it felt a bit too fast and then backed off slightly.
Steady, steady, and yes it worked out fine. Surprisingly easy in fact, but if we’d been in a hotter ship that first attempt might still be floating up the runway in ground effect.
So from that day on I’ve always placed special emphasis on training (myself and my students) for what could happen, because I now know it eventually will.
Since then I’ve experienced so many takeoff and landing emergencies that, though they’re never welcome, I have to admit they’re usually kind of fun!
CROSS COUNTRY, September 9
Dr. Jack predicted cloud bases around 10k to 12k along the entire route, and a lot of cloud coverage.
Arriving at Crystal I had a few chores that needed to be handled before getting a tow, low tire pressure, wing dolly tire puncture, etc. I got into the air at 12:00, later than planned. Even though the mountains were mostly in shadow, the climb out in the mountains was not difficult, I was able to climb to 10.5k before heading north towards Bishop. The sky had cloud coverage most of the way across the desert, but nothing worth turning in.
I struggled at Backus (Pontious) before getting enough altitude to glide to the mountain range, and once in the mountains again I was only able to climb to 9.5 K. Even though there were low cloud bases along the way, most were only decoration. I could see virga south of Inyokern moving towards Boomer, the local house thermal. It was a race to get there before rain moved in. Bradley (ES) was further behind and determined he would not be able to get there in time. I was able to get to Boomer and concluded it would be safer to not stick around and work the lift, so I pushed forward with more clouds ahead hoping they would give me altitude to stay above the ridges. Plan B was to backtrack to Inyokern approaching it from the north side. If that was not an option I would go to Plan C and land in a known farm field.
Well the clouds ahead worked. Not enough to keep me above the ridge, but high enough to make the next alternate in the valley, Cinder Cone Dry Lake. I worked north up the valley and across to the Inyos arriving at an altitude that didn’t leave much altitude for searching, but got lucky and was able to climb above the ridges. I made it to Bishop, but pushing any further north with cloud bases around 12k would not be high enough to make a glide from Boundary Peak to Mina, NV.
After being grounded for 2 months, I really enjoyed the struggle and rewards of this flight.
The day started with my radiator giving up the ghost on my drive to Crystalaire. I figured no way I’d be flying this weekend. Luck, some fast thinking and an awesome crew had me launching on time. PV and I were the only two to go straight-out on this marginally forecast, low ceiling day. We launched shortly after noon into an over-developing sky.
A shout out over the radio from our sniffer Dale Masters was much appreciated. ES left the second ridge at 11,000 and headed North a little behind PV. This was more cloud cover than I’d flown XC in and it immediately became apparent that my route ahead was completely shaded. The usual landmarks were all but obscured by darkness.
When I arrived at Silver Queen and was working a nice thermal PV radioed that the mountains weren’t working. As I climbed through 9000’ I looked down and saw PV coming in on the deck. I alerted my crew that Mojave would be my next alternate and turned toward the mountain looking for sunny areas to provide a chance of getting back to cloud base. That wasn’t working, so with enough reserve I called California City as my next alternate.
Each time I flew West to the mountains I found nothing and returned to lift over the Honda Track. There I climbed to 9000’ cloud base and had enough altitude to just make IYK. I headed North with enough margin to return to California City. The low ceiling, squall cells coming from the South and my lack of comfort with the off field landing sites ahead sealed my fate. I radioed my crew and landed at California City. We had ES in the box just as the rain and wind started.
With trailer in tow, my crew dropped me at the repair shop in Van Nuys, which had replaced my radiator and I was good to head home. Not a great straight-out XC day, but I learned much more than on an easy booming one.
Still haven’t heard how the Crystal Squadron fared last Saturday (maybe they’re still aloft, in which case it’ll be some very long flights indeed). Anyway, until we find out if they ever landed, here’s another true yarn from deep in the desk drawer:
Two buddies were up soaring together while one was getting to know his newfangled camelback. It was still half full of Gatorade from a prior flight, so he smartly kept it in the fridge, topping off with some fresh on his way out the door several mornings later. A penny saved.
Midday, when he finally took a swig, the stuff had long since lost its chill. He mentioned it tasted funny and his pal said, “Warm Gatorade from rubber bag, who knew? Have some more, you might get used to it.”
At that point they were tigertailing a honcho boomer through eleven thousand, twelve thousand, thirteen five… Suddenly, louder than necessary and with uncharacteristic syntax, Mr. Camelback declared that the brew was tasting better each hit, more or less, but made his lips numb.
Take two was garbled and trailed off…
You guessed it, the poor guy was bombed on fermented Gatorade at high altitude under a zenith Mojave sun. And this is someone who doesn’t drink… How lucky was he, having a trusted friend there to squire him safely down?
Back on the ground, everybody had a laugh of course, and all agreed on who should drive home. Before they reached the highway, as they tell it, Mr. Camelback had fallen sound asleep (i.e. passed out cold).
About the next day’s headache, report pending.
It was once again Sean’s turn in the barrel but the completion of his glider repair got postponed once again unfortunately, (Karl had questioned me as to how much I bribed Marty to take his time finishing it) therefore it was a sacrifice but what the heck! The forecast looked good going north (although there was some debate about going toward Phoenix at the pilot’s meeting, which got quickly nixed due to rather dangerous surface temperatures ).
I launched about 11 a.m. and quickly climbed to cloud base at 14K, getting under way before noon. This turned out to be a little too soon, although I had the glide across the valley and onto the Three Sisters, where there was really not a bump, going further down to the Barren Ridge only produced very light, maybe half to 1-kt lift…just enough to maintain and ever so slowly gain some altitude.
Once back up to 8K, I pushed further west toward Cache Peak as the now turning windmills promised some activity. But once there…no cigar. Turning tail east back to the Barren Ridge again, fortunately (ES) Bradley marking the spot where I was earlier made the thermal easier to locate. I now heard (C3) Karl call out a good thermal at the west end of the Sisters but I was too low to get there so I remained with Bradley for the time being.
I wasted a bunch of time at this location when finally the shear line started to pop cu’s way west of Cache Peak. Now back to 7500’.. I took a chance and chased back west (too far out of the way) in order to move under the shear. It did work out, although if it didn’t I would have found myself barely making and most likely landing at Mountain Valley, which would have been first at least for me on a straight out from Crystal.
Barry (01Q) had to re-light and therefore was last to get across the valley, then sailed right through this area with ease 30-40 minutes later. The shear line pushing out of the Tehachapi Pass was later than I anticipated but then this is all part of soaring; the living and learning never stops. Hindsight being 20/20, there was an easterly component to the wind, likely stalling the shear).
The climb under these clouds east of Cache Peak was an E-ticket ride, strong all the way to 12K and I was on my way to Inyokern and beyond. From this point the rest of the flight was strong, running fast up the Sierras, crossing to the Inyo’s, running 15-16K under the clouds to the Whites.
Unfortunately the cloud bases did not lift higher on the Whites and we never got much higher than that. Karl up ahead declared the Mina direction as Hawthorne looked somewhat clobbered up, and I followed.
Arrived at Gabbs with about 12K, found a late disintegrating cu, dumped the ballast and ever so slowly climbed to 16K, plenty of margin for the 45nm glide to Austin where Karl, Barry and I landed.
Once on the ground, I found all the motels in Austin booked so Sean and I trucked on back to far, far away Hawthorne in the dark to spend the night. I made a deliberate effort to go slower than usual on Hwy 361 due to the previous incidents with glider pilots and black cows. Fortunately we did not see any, black or otherwise, but a jack rabbit managed to commit suicide, running front of and taking one of my grill parts with him. At least it was not a black cow.
On Saturday Aug 26, Karl, Peter, Bradley and I headed up the Owens Valley. Karl, Peter and I made it to Austin NV. Bradley’s crew had to be back to crew for Whitney Gantz the following day so he turned at Boundary Peak and landed at Bishop. The day looked promising to head deep into Nevada so I loaded up the water and launched first with great enthusiasm at 11:15 with cu’s building in the mountains. Peter was staged right behind me so I got off tow in the first bump I found, thinking that this would help get the Squadron into the air quickly. Well, that bump turned out to be a red herring, and I soon found myself low and struggling in zero sink on the first ridge and was slowly descending to pattern altitude. Damn. 26 minutes later I found myself back on the ground looking into the operations trailer window and reminding myself why it’s better to take one higher tow and connect with good lift rather than get off tow early. Oh well, sometimes the dragon wins…
I re-launched about 30 minutes later and got off tow under a nice cloud to the north of the middle ridge and soon found myself at cloud base at 14,600’ and pushed off toward Mojave. I could hear Peter reporting that conditions were weak up on the Barren ridge and that he was struggling. I could see a line of cu’s forming just to the east of the Tehachapi valley and I headed to the west and I soon found good lift. A little later I was at 16,000’ just to the west of Kelso Valley under good looking cu’s that now stretched far to the north. After cruising along the southern Sierra, it was starting to look dark and a bit disorganized north of Mt Whitney so I left the Sierras at 15,000’ and crossed over to the Inyo mountains at Mazurka Peak where the clouds looked much better. By now Karl was near White mountain and reporting that conditions toward Hawthorne and Fallon did not look favorable and was heading to the north east. I chased Karl, Peter and Bradley up the White mountains and soon jumped off Boundary Peak with 16,000’ and headed toward Mina/Gabbs. I had just passed the Mina VOR when Karl declared Austin, so I pushed forward through some blue sky to connect with some disorganized clouds to the north east of the Gabbs airport. About 10 minutes later, I was back up to 14,900’ and on glide to Austin in kind, but steadily softening, conditions. I landed last at 6:20 and had the glider put back in the trailer just as it started to get dark. Peter and Sean could not find any rooms in Austin so they hit the road and headed back to Hawthorne, as Karl, Rose, Sue and I set up camp at the airport in the twilight. Rose provided cold beer and another nice dinner that we consumed under the stars complete with a citronella candle to keep the bugs away while the Austin a capella coyotes entertained us in the dark. We had breakfast the following morning and we caravanned to Bishop where we had lunch at the recently re-opened Whiskey Creek restaurant. Sue had a doctor’s appointment Monday so we parted ways with Karl and Rose and got home a little after 6 PM. Not a bad way to spend the weekend…
Saturday looked better and less wind than on Sunday. PK, 01Q, ES and myself decided to go N,. Got cheers from the crews — too hot towards Phoenix. 1st Barry, Peter, Bradley and Karl in that order.
11:40 I got pulled up, connected with a thermal at Morning Mt, checked a few clouds and left for Backus with 14K about 12:05, straight glide to the windmills, passed Silver Queen who was still asleep. Left the Windmills with 9K, over to the ridge near Cache Creek, good one up to 14.5K, time 12:58, short of Walker Pass.
15.5K, bouncing along the ridge with no clouds up to Olancha Pk. That thermal got me to 15K. There were good looking clouds over at the Inyo’s, so crossed over and climbed to 12K. Heading N, found one that lifted me to 14k, straight to Mazurka, circled to 15K, the clouds did not pull that good. Lots of shade from a big decaying one, passing White Mtn Pk looking up instead of down, I chased to a sunny spot that got me back to above the ridge passing Boundary Pk with a few feet over 14K, nothing to be had there. Abeam Janey’s Ranch 16K. N or NE ?
Blipmap showed better altitudes NE some possible over development. Opted NE I saw good looking clouds. Nice thermal E of Luning Dry Lake from 10K -14K, going along the mountains E of Gabbs in shade heading for sunlight on the ground, I found the “Austin” thermal 15K, avoiding the virga that was just short of Fritz’s dry lake by veering E over the next mountain range I got to Austin with 10K, none of the expected sink, there was another cell of virga upwind over the town of Austin. So gear down dump the water and land. No traffic, PK and 01Q still several miles out, 17:57.
Crews showed up in time to get the gliders into the trailers, yes I used my head lamp. Peter and Sean said good bye heading for Hawthorne to overnight. 01Q and C3 set up camp and had another nice dinner under the stars provided by Rose. Leisurely Breakfast next morning by Sue and Barry and then trailering via the back way to Middlegate, Bishop stop for lunch, then home. Successful outing again.