Spur-of-the-moment with a girlfriend, we were up in cloudless December wave. It was so balmy on the ground we hadn’t thought of wearing jackets. Direct sunlight can keep a cockpit comfy in winter if you don’t fly too fast. Besides, without oxygen we wouldn’t be going very high.
It was grand as ever of course, but what should we do to keep it interesting?
We decided to angle crosswind toward a lenticular sixty miles east. Getting there was easy and surprisingly quick with a quartering tailwind, though flying away from the sun made it chillier than we liked. That lennie appeared to be growing toward us – or did it just seem so the closer we came? Either way, the wave was stronger there and we regained lost height before arrival.
With sundown due around four-thirty I thought of turning back. (‘Too late already,’ chuckles Bad Angel under his hoary breath.) For the first time in forty miles I looked over my shoulder… Oh boy.
The lenticular had been growing, and now reached clear across, connecting to the local wave we started from. The whole system had been powering up all along, and already we had more energy between us and home than could quickly be disposed of, with too little daylight left to fly that far. And now that tailwind component would be reversed, too. (Good Angel whimpers, Bad Angel laughs out loud.)
Bright side? Being way too high and short on time each require the same solution: push over and GO — FAST as you and your bird are willing. Soaring’s ultimate luxury in one way of thinking.
We could no longer see the ground where we were going. The sun was down down there, yet still blinding us. Our crab angle had us pointing directly at it as shadows lengthened below, dissolving into a gray abyss, so we pegged trusty old Zero One Mike at 100 knots indicated, straight toward where I thought the airstrip should be. Lift on the way was just plain ridiculous. We rose for a while to nineteen thousand feet, where 100 knots indicated means 158 MPH true airspeed. Where cold-shrunken canopies leak very thin air and the setting sun is frigid, not romantic.
Guessing five miles, out we slowed briefly to pop full spoilers, then resumed our dive into what by then was late dusk, down through rotor and even more unwelcome lift, still racing hard against darkness. Good thing we weren’t landing off-field; approaching our unlit strip, perception of depth and distance (through a tinted canopy) would have been even scarier without the familiarity of local features.
And after all that, mm-hmm, just one more anticlimactic landing.
This story has no surprise ending or punchline. The lesson isn’t how to get away with such foolishness, it’s that you might not! If we’d gotten back ten minutes later the landing would have been less ‘safe’ by an order of magnitude. Twenty minutes, we may have never found the airport.