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.
On Saturday, June 17, Chuck Coyne made his first ever cross-country soaring flight – with no one else up there to share information with – and did well to reach California City. Then on Sunday Karl Sommer made diamond distance to Gabbs, NV, Barry McGarraugh got nearly as far, to Mina. Here are their stories of that weekend.
Thanks to lots of coaching and encouragement from Peter Kovari and Sean Eckstein, my first solo cross-country soaring flight was successfully conducted on Saturday, June 17, from Crystal to California City. Evidently, I was the only ‘Crystal Squad’ attemptee that day.
After launching around 12:45, I released from tow over the second ridge. After working my way up the ridge and then towards the Wrightwood ski resort, lift seemed to fall apart at 11,500’ so I decided to head out towards Rosamond dry lake. It looked to be a long way from where I was. In past flights I had edged out towards Rosamond, but always with plenty of altitude on tap for a retreat back to Crystal. This time, there would be no going back once the decision point was reached and off I went.
Having been forewarned about ‘sucker’ thermals on the route from Crystal to Rosamond, my inclination was to ignore any bumps along the way; nonetheless I couldn’t resist a few times. Luck- ily, those attempts worked out and I arrived at Rosamond at over 8,000’ and from there aimed at Backus/Silver Queen. Climbed to 2842 meters over the Silver Queen mine, then aimed towards Cache Mountain. Before getting to the mountain, I tried my luck first along the foothills south the mountain while contemplating my next leg.
After some consideration, I decided to call it a day and land at Cal City. I was a bit less familiar with the territory to the north than the route from Crystal to where I was, and making a longer flight on my first cross-country attempt didn’t seem necessary in order to feel successful. I had flown in and out of Cal City in the past, and the long, wide runway seemed like more of a sure thing than what might lie ahead if I pressed on.
So, after a 2 hour, 22 minute flight, I found myself on the ground at Cal City, feeling very happy with the flight. Les- sons learned; stay in better contact with my ground crew – seems like I forgot to tell my ground crew, Sean Eckstein, that I was leaving the mountains and heading for Rosamond. Also, plan any landing at Cal City to roll out at the cross taxiway – Joe had to push my PIK 20D a long way in the 103 degree heat to get off the runway. Thanks, again, to Sean for crewing and his advice before the flight.
Barry and I where planning to fly Sunday, fitting better into our plans and also looking more promising. Our crews where all for it, hope- fully getting somewhere to camp. Rose bringing dinner and Sue breakfast.
Dr. Jack, good going N, Sierras OD, Altitudes dropping to 11k Haw- thorne area we thought Austin could work. Anyway looked good for team flying with 2 301 Libelles. About 10:45 we pushed our Libelles into the staging area. No one else going XC. Barry got a tow at 11:00. By about 12:10 I got my tow. (Lucky for me that Rose shaded us with our umbrella)
Got up quick on Mt. Lewis, connected W of Mojave 10k. One of my Batteries decided to quit. Struggled via Kelso up to Boomer, up the ridge 14k, crossing to the Inyos at Olancha Pk, finally clouds, flying straight 14k Black Mt., dark looking cloud street up to Boundary, arrived 11k White Mt found strong lift up to 15k.
Sierras blowing up, spreading cirrus E. Few clouds on the way to Mina. Barry was about 7M short of Mina not finding much when I left Boundary at 14k. The clouds not much help, the sun just about to sink into the cirrus, I arrived NW of Mina in the hills 9k searching for the saving thermal. Just felt some bump, enough to maintain the 9k, when Barry reported he has to land at Mina, darn this does not look good.
Full concentration and clean flying, my Altimeter showed improvement, thank you thank you 12k is enough (not to be greedy) to counter 6 kts from the N. Landed 18:30 Rose was at Gabbs 10min later, glider in the Box, Barry and Sue arrived at the same time.
We set up for camping with all the trimmings, thanks Ladies. No stars, only lightening in the Sierras. Monday morning after Breakfast with fresh coffee and a beautiful sunrise we all got in the Van and headed to Berlin, but could not find anybody to practice our German. Finishing up with Lunch at Whiskey Creek in Bishop. Another nice weekend.
On Sunday June 18th, I landed at Mina, NV, after 6 1⁄2 hours of flying. I launched at 11:15 and took a high tow to the middle ridge and promptly climbed up to the ridge line. I pushed away from Baden Powell at 13,800’ and was pushed across the desert with a nice tailwind that produced 100+kt ground speeds. I settled down to ~7,500’ to the west of Mojave where I found some scrappy/moderate lift that got me up into Kelso Valley. Just to the north of Kelso valley I connected with clouds and had a good climb up to ~14,000’ that got me up to Boomer ridge.
The wind was now coming out of the east and the lift along the ridgeline was pretty choppy, but I was able to fly between 10-14,000’ up to Olancha Peak. I crossed the Owens Valley just past Olancha Peak and got up on the Inyos after a quick climb to ~15,000’ on the plateau east of Lone Pine. Conditions were strong, but cloud bases were fairly low along the Inyo and White mtns and I was not able to climb much above 15,000’ all the way to Boundry Peak. I left Boundary at ~14,000’ and headed to some clouds to the north with the intent to head toward Gabbs and Austin. Conditions softened considerably and the clouds that I was counting on dissipated as I approached them, and I sank lower into Mina/Lunning valley. I headed to the sunlit hills to the east of Mina, but only found sink that dropped me well below the ridge line. All I could find in the valley was zero sink and I eventually succumbed to gravity and landed at 5:45.
Karl managed to cross over the valley and find some lift to the north on Mina that got him over the mountains and into Gabbs. Sue got to the airport about 20 minutes after I landed and we got the glider put away and we headed off to Gabbs. We had previously agreed to meet Karl and Rose at Gabbs where we had a fantastic dinner that Rose pre- pared and we camped out at the airport again. Monday morning we drove over to the Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park and spent some time investigating the numerous mine ruins and the Ichthyosaur fossils. This place is way out of the way, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood stop by and check it out!
There’s an unwritten statute in soaring: never dump your water ballast on another glider. And for good reason. If you must shed weight in order to climb, dropping even part of that mass onto someone’s wings below you is at best unsportspersonlike. (Anywhere near the ground it could be calamitous!)
This happened to me in the ’94 Standard Class Nationals, and no I was not competing. A student and I were soaring locally to study contestants’ tactics as they flowed through our neighborhood. We were in a 2-33 and the offender was flying a Discus. The surprise shower had no effect on our already dismal performance so I laughed it off as a novelty. After all, we were still climbing quicker…
Then a circle later the Discus passed so close we could see right up our wing into its cockpit — where the pilot’s head was DOWN all the way around… And banking toward us!
Some believe they simply cannot soar without an audio variometer to keep eyes outside where the action is. Okay, but every year they’re lured by more digital distractions, spendy little gadgets that clutter cockpit and mind, and complicate the panel. Each requires more attention and recurrent fingered inputs on increasingly tiny buttons, further insulating the victim from direct contact with non-virtual reality ever evolving OUT THERE.
One might assume that average skill level in national competition is higher than a typical regional, but even the most brilliant pilots need to see where they’re going. You can bet our race cat in the Discus had an audio bleating at him, but if the idea was to liberate his eyes from the panel it wasn’t working. Had he ever seen us? If we rolled level we’d have collided one second later. Then he would!
The sky is mined with such characters every summer weekend, tweaking their gizmos, resetting their screens, unendingly beset by those artificial burps and bleeps that obscure the song of the wind. Meanwhile another, less sophisticated yet equally menacing, numbly stares at an uncompensated vario, wondering why it always seems to read DOWN. (‘Cause that’s where you’re looking, fool!)
I’ve thought about rigging up some kind of klaxon horn with real punch like firetrucks have, to get their attention… Buuut nowadays the highest-teckers have started wearing headphones — noise canceling no doubt.
Anyway, 2-33s can turn tighter than any racing ship and extract more energy from a thermal’s core. So as we climbed by inside that Discus I stuck my entire arm out the big back window and hailed it with the longest finger I had, taunting gratitude for our timely bath. He probly never noticed.
Every year my dear mother asks what I want for my birthday and I always have the same answer: a clock that runs slower. We’re all familiar with how perception of time accelerates as we age. A month in our forties seems to pass as quickly as a week when we were teenagers. I recognized this phenomenon when I first heard it described as a small child. Now, with those forties a receding memory, time feels like wind flowing through what’s left of my hair.
Even while landing a glider.
When groundlubbers contemplate flying a plane with no engine they often say, “You only get one chance to land.” It’s true of course, but that’s all a properly skilled glider pilot needs. The critical parameter is TIME. Powered aircraft can always ‘go around’, delaying the inevitable until fuel runs out, but a glider in the landing pattern is committed to a process that will be finished, one way or another, in only a minute or so, ready or not. The concerned onlooker might better say, “You have only so many seconds to avoid a wreck.” Therein lies the rub.
When you’re tardy in preparing to land, garbazhe can begin to pile up quicker each moment. Delay your checklist a few seconds and then have unexpected difficulty in lowering the gear. Futz with that a few seconds then realize you’re out of position to mix with traffic while some interloper horns into the pattern, now ahead of you! Hang back a few seconds for safe separation, and now you’re low. Fail to push over in sinking air for only a few more seconds and now you’re desperate, hoping just to clear those bushes short of the runway. That, naturally, is when you’ll discover a sticky brake handle…
You had X mount of time, which was enough, but you squandered it several times over, falling further behind with each distraction. Permutations of this debacle are infinite, and none work to your advantage. Bet on it.
Any airstrip suitable for takeoff is also easy to land on. There should be room to badly misjudge the touchdown point and still walk away from nothing worse than deserved embarrassment. That’s if you were ready to control what happened before it happened by itself.
Competent management of any time-limited operation includes preparing early to stay ahead of events — and then keeping up. Anybody knows that. But hear this please so I can quit scratching the scab: having landed now with many hundreds of glider guiders from a wide weird world of different backgrounds, I’d say that maybe half never find time for their landing checklist until they’re already on downwind leg. That’s about as smart as signaling for takeoff before you get around to strapping in!
Mike Koerner’s story:
I landed at Richfield, Utah… but I cheated.
Takeoff was at 10:30. I left Baden Powell at 11,000 at 11am. I dumped my water along the shores of Calico Dry Lake and spent an hour exploring mine shafts on my way up the mountain. (I should get one of those steerable spotlights like the highway patrol has).
C3 got ahead of me and reported tough conditions at Halloran Summit so I headed more northerly and hit a boomer on the way to Sky Ranch, Just as I was turning back toward Sillurian.
Nellis was real friendly but as always, it was hard to hear the controller over the roar of the my air vent and screaming vario. I heard “Cleared into class Bravo” anyway as I descended into their airspace.
But along about Mormon Mesa, at a comfortable altitude – with the low save at Calico, the turn back on the way to Sky Ranch and the airspace drama all beyond me – I started to slow down… mentally. I was still flying, safely I think, but not with the strategic outlook that racing experts such as Garrett Willat expound. Instead, soaring had become a rote process.
It was late afternoon. I had been up since 5 am and had been concentrating intently for several hours. Now with reduced urgency and the excitement associated with the hope of making a really long flight extinguished, it was hard to concentrate.
This is not a new problem. Over the years I’ve tried pouring water over my head, changing my sleep cycle, building the plane the night before, sleeping at the airport, abstaining from caffeine several days before, eating various foods during flight, etc. A couple years ago an IT friend of my daughter’s suggested Red Bull. Since then I’ve kept a can of it in my flight bag. This is the third time I’ve used it.
So there’s an asterisk on this flight; it was made with the aid of a performance enhancing drug. (Ed note: All future flight claims must be accompanied by a urine sample.)
It’s amazingly effective anyway. I could immediately see that I needed to head a little north of the course line to the first cu of the day on top of Pine Valley Mountain, and then continue north-east along that cloud street until the clouds and lift ran out. Garrett would have been proud.
Fran and I hiked up to Bullion Falls on the way back, collected rocks and took the scenic route home via Cedar Breaks.
Sean Eckstein’s story:
I made it to Williams, AZ. Mike (CF) and Karl (C3) and myself flew this Saturday. Conditions looked really good with high altitudes towards Las Vegas, but there would be a few areas that would be hurdles.
Got a tow around 11:15, and climbed out and headed towards Wrightwood and lost to much altitude due to a south wind, I went back to the Labor Camp and climbed to 11.5k then headed towards Apple Valley, different path this time. The flight progress pretty good from there, north of Baker to Clark Mt. had a cross wind, some sink, and some strong narrow lift to make things fun. Climbing out at Clark Mt. above 15k was fast, Karl and Mike were already heading towards Utah. I decided to try to fly towards Arizona on a route Peter (6PK) had spent time locating some required other than airport land- able areas. I headed east towards McCullough Mt. and climbed to 16k and headed across the river towards Triangle Airport.
Triangle Airport to Red Lake (dry lake) had some more sink to deal with, and as I was gliding towards Red Lake I could see clouds on a plateau that I need to connect with moving away. I got to the plateau and had to work scraps of lift to get high enough to glide back and connect with them.
Hualapai airstrip, Seligman airport, than HA Clark Memorial Field (Williams, AZ) had clouds all along the way, but even with a good margin flying downwind towards the next alternate landing area, I watched my margin disappear. My glide to Williams I had to work for, gaining my margin than losing it occupied my attention so much I forgot to tell my crew, Peter, my next alternate was Williams.
Now the next story, I landed at Williams and not a soul around. The terminal building was open, the gate had no key pad so I called the airport manager, no answer. I called FSS and talked to a briefer who gave me the managers cell phone number, which was not good. Peter arrived so we parked the trailer in front of the terminal building, disassemble the glider, and carried it to the trailer.
Had a good flight to Hurricane UT.
CF left early, my start was 11:10 left the Mtn 11k around SlashX 11k enough for 031 Drl (CF reported very low Calico) got up to 11k again going for Baker looking for good lift in the hills close to Razor no such luck, found myself 4.7k in the Foothills Halloran Grade working hard getting to 8k Cyma next, opted to run straight to Clark Mtn nothing along the way gusty lots of down, arriving 6k thinking soon you have to run to Cyma. Got bounces getting closer to the rocks finally found the sweet spot over 17k a few raggedy clouds short of Boulder back to 17k. Short of Echo Bay found enough to connect with Virgin Pk at 8k got only to 12k cruising along the ridges towards the Gorge, very gusty and turbulent,( bad memory) at the entrance I found a weak one, hard to center just enough to get to Hurricane, Mike reported good lift to the N.
I decided to count my blessings, straight line with the hope to find a saving thermal on the way, nothing, some little 100’ at Hurricane while CF reported “finally under a cloud 14k”.
Landed at 5:30 Crew arrived in no time, drove to Jean to overnight $90 incl. Breakfast, in Mesquite Virgin River Casino sold out, Best Western last room $144. (Sunday Morning I talked to Mike “ From Hurricane to Richfield was the easy part of the flight”.