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.

I give.

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.


Karl’s story:

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”.


Sun., May 28
Sean’s report:

Sunday was the day with the best conditions, after a pilots meeting with Karl (C3) and Barry (01Q) the obvious choice was north toward the Owens Valley.
After a tow to the Devil’s Punch Bowl I climbed to 10k, Karl reported that Lewis was working, at Lewis I climbed to 13k which gave me a very comfortable glide to Backus. There were some areas of strong sink gliding to Backus, but once there the desert was at trigger temperature and produced some strong wide thermals.
Gliding from Kelso to Inyokern kept you on your toes with strong climbs followed by long glides with non-stop sink. Inyokern Boomer ridge to Olancha peak was where conditions really started to make the day enjoyable. I left Olancha peak at 14k and flew directly to the south facing slopes on the Inyos by Lone Pine, arriving at 9k. The thermals were, as one person jokingly put it, screaming like a scalded ape. I climbed to 16k and headed north reaching 17.9k on the Whites.
During the flight from the Inyos to the Whites my mechanical vario started to stick, and my flight computer display kept changing screens, it basically went nuts.
I had a easy glide to Mina and topped up with some more altitude to 13k, then enjoyed the final glide to Gabbs airport.
It’s nice to be rewarded with a day like this, and be able to enjoy it with good company!
= = = = = =

Barry’s report:
On May 28th, Karl, Sean and I flew to Gabbs, NV. The Blip maps looked great to the north and light winds were predicted out of the south/southeast. I launched after Karl and Sean at 12:40 and quickly climbed to 13,500’ over Mt Lewis and was on my north a little after 1:00. I caught up with Sean south of Backus, and we slowly climbed up to ~12,000’ a little to the west of Mojave. Karl was out ahead and was reporting mixed conditions as we headed up into Kelso Valley but I found a good thermal that got me up to 12,000’ and on my way to Boomer ridge. At Olancha Peak, I split off the Sierra and headed to the Plateau east of Lone Pine where I found a well organized 10-kt thermal that got me up to 15,000’ and on my way up the Inyos under an awesome cloud street.
I jumped off of Boundry Peak at 17,500’ and made a beeline to Mina where I made my first turn after 122 miles of cruising. I caught up with Karl east of Luning where we climbed up to ~14,000’ and had an easy glide into Gabbs. I landed first at 6:10 followed by Karl about 10 minutes later, and Sean at 6:35.
Peter and Sean got the glider back in the trailer and headed off into the night while Karl, Rose, Sue and I set up camp at Gabbs and spent the night on the airport. We ate a nice Fondue dinner under the stars that Rose prepared and washed it down with some fine red wine. Not a bad way to spend the day……!