I flew the 2013 Crystal Squadron season opener on Saturday; 598 statute miles from release to Mack Mesa, Colorado.
Lots of warning from Walt Rogers and concurrence from Dr. Jack had me scrambling to straighten out some instrumentation problems discovered during a check-out flight 2 weeks earlier. One last wiring change on the flight line and I was in the air before 10 am.
A 3200 foot tow put me into strong lift over the second ridge with easy steps up to 11,000’ over Mount Baden Powell.
The Mojave River basin thermals were not particularly good; dry with tops around 7,000 as I recall (my trace is still in the plane) but good enough to keep moving. I wasted a little time in the lee of Calico Mountain trying to work a weak wave that didn’t pan out… and I didn’t need anyway.
About 1500 feet over Cima Dry lake things changed dramatically. Cus based at 14,000 were blooming over the Spring Mountains.
I decided to overfly the Las Vegas Class Bravo squawking the new 1202 code; however the wonderful conditions and clouds west of Vegas, for some reason did not extend to the north. Sinking toward their 9000-foot airspace ceiling I radioed Nellis, but as I was requesting clearance I hit a boomer. I stopped mid-sentence and said “I’ve found lift. Please disregard”. The controller said, “I can clear you into Class Bravo.” I said, “No, no. No need.” and thanked him anyway. I do appreciate that the Nellis folks have always let me into their airspace and let me handle my own navigation, unlike the McCarran controllers to the south. But it’s still a distraction, especially with my Terra transponder which doesn’t necessarily broadcast the code you’ve dialed in (hopefully I’ve fixed that).
Conditions continued to soften to the northeast. North of Mesquite I reached the point where I couldn’t continue on course and veered off toward the round fields above Littlefield. Moments later I saw an Eagle a little north of me at my altitude. He wasn’t circling (they don’t really do that so much anyway). He was just floating with his wings level and locked, but he was certainly climbing relative to me. Then I saw him make a flick turn, still without flapping and decided to hook back around and join him. His narrow thermal (he left when I came up underneath him) gave me a couple thousand feet and allowed me to proceed on course.
Coming up on the Virgin Mountains things got dramatically better again with tops around 10,000 feet. I crossed the diamond line north of Hurricane at about 12,000 feet around 3:30 pm Pacific Time. Conditions to the north, toward cedar city, looked overdeveloped so I continued to the northeast (I’m not sure about that decision as all I can see is the clouds and cloud shadows in my immediate vicinity). I was under cus again (the first since approaching Las Vegas) over Patch, and in and out of virga thereafter. I got to 17,500 around Bryce and stayed high until the clouds and lift died out near Hanksville, well within glide to Canyonlands.
In 2001 I had scouted out landing sites between Canyonlands and Mack Mesa. The best I had come up with was two sections of road and a remote private strip that I had taken it upon myself to clear brush off the sides of. How these would fair 12 years out is anyone guess.
And so it was with great trepidation that I passed the long and wide runway and Canyonlands, still 600 feet below glide to Mack Mesa with little in the way of prospects. I dialed back the MacCready, but this presented another problem. Moving east it was getting late earlier than I expected. I would have to keep my speed up to make Mack Mesa before the sunset cutoff for Barringer Trophy consideration; though I recognized that having a runway underneath me when I land takes precedence over any trophy.
I flew with great intensity; working the stick back and forth with every quiver of the vario and dancing on the rudders to keep the yaw string perfectly straight. This seemed to pay off, though in retrospect I suspect I just had a stretch of friendly air. I think I was still within glide to Canyonlands when the “Arrival altitude” for Mack Mesa went positive. I kept working away until I had built up a decent arrival altitude and then gradually brought the speed back up.
The sun was still visible when I landed, but I’ll need to compare the official sunset time to the landing time from my trace to know for sure whether I have a submitable flight.
I made this trip without a crew. There were several people on the field just finishing up a barbeque when I landed. One of them drove me to the Grand Junction Airport from which I got a flight back to LA the next morning.
Thanks to Mike Koerner for this account of his latest fantastic soaring flight.
And thanks also for setting the finest example of soaring excellence for the rest of us to emulate!