Here are some fine right-ups of last week’s cross-country soaring out of Crystal. Five very different stories from two different days. Thanks, guys!
Dave Raspet: Hurricane, UT 314 miles
In our informal, walk around pilot’s meeting much credence was given to a recommendation by Walt Rodgers that anyone wanting to do 750k or 1000k should fly today. I was heartened by Dr Jack’s prediction of thermal tops around 13-14 k at Las Vegas so I headed to the northeast and the other 4 went north.
I was first to launch but struggled, finally left from 12 k after an hour and 30 minutes of scratching, the others were long gone. The first part of the flight went well and I tried to stock up at Barstow-Daggett but still ended up scratching at 4750’ just south of Harvard. Good lift a little beyond Harvard and from there to Baker was great, went by Baker at 9700’, an unheard of situation for me.
The flight on to the Class B east of Las Vegas went well and I was 13500’ just south of the Class B. Went across the river and then flew north to avoid the Class B entirely. Some good lift up by Overton then on to Virgin Mountain and a climb to 12.5’. Still 64 miles out of Stout (Hurricane Airport), not quite enough. Scratching above the Virgin River Gorge that got me enough to make Stout with about 800’ to spare. Nine miles out of Stout I got a great thermal over the ramp at the St George Airport. Of course, from this cinching thermal, the trip to Stout had lots of great lift.
My two problems with my technique for this flight were: Thermal spirals were way too wide. Over a number of thermals my spirals averaged 25 to 29 seconds, should be less than 20 seconds and max climb would have probably occurred if I got down to 16-18 seconds.
And I ignored MacCready speed to fly. I’d come to the top of a 4-6 knot thermal and head out at 60 knots. MacCready would say about 85 knots was optimum. I was obviously concerned about where the next thermal would be and how it would treat me. Worrying like that is not the optimal way to fly cross-country.
Even though the thermals were good I turned the flight into a tough slog. Around Harvard one thing that has never happened to me before in the cockpit here in the desert, I was dripping sweat, the sweat wasn’t evaporating like it usually does, it just ran down my nose and dripped off.
My hat is off to PV for his tenacity, I think I heard him still south of Inyokern after 300 PM but he stuck with it and got to Gabbs. Great work Sean, you really earned that diamond.
Sean Eckstein: Gabbs, NV 312 miles
Both the Las Vegas and Owens Valley directions looked good, on paper. Conditions were not as good as anticipated, climbing out at Crystal took too much time, then I got stuck low at Mojave for too long. Bradley (ES) called out a thermal that got me back on course. The rest of the flight was climb as high as you could and get moving.
I was able to make it to the switchbacks by Lone Pine high enough to cut across the valley to Mazourka by Independence making up for lost time. The Whites were mostly in shadow with nice looking clouds but most were not pulling. The lift that I did find was close to the ridge, and altitude gained was lost pushing forward. I arrived at Boundary Peak at 12.7k, I had to fly NW out front of Boundary to work a cloud that looked like it would work, it had rough and broken lift but it paid off.
Arrived at Luning, NV I watched a cloud that I was gliding to slowly dispersing, I think I worked the last lift there before it dissipated. I climbed high enough to make Gabbs with plenty of altitude. Karl (C3) and Rose Summer (Yeah for Gabbs!!!) and my crew Peter (6PK) toasted to a challenging day.
It was lot of work to make it to Gabbs.
Karl Sommer: Gabbs, NV 312 miles
Made it to Gabbs. Takeoff 11:11, Landing 19:08, Duration 7:57. (see OLC) Lots of “hard work” to get there. Had no problem to get on top of Mt. Lewis, left with 10.8k, Desert was friendly, with a few thermals, got to the mountains 8.4k, short of Cache Pk 12.9k, Boomer 13.6k, was impatient along the Sierra fell off and crossed to the Inyos’ S slopes abeam Lone Pine left 13.4, near Zurich 9.6k to 14.0k, Schulman 14.5.
In the meantime the Whites turned very dark covered with dark gray clouds, looking up on White Mt. not finding lift, thinking “run for the sun” and clouds looked good on the E side, near Montgomery Pass back up 13.8k, it felt like the good looking clouds did not like me, short of Mina a blue thermal 9.7 – 13.6K got Gabbs made, searching for a strong thermal to get to Austin did not pan out at 7:00PM and 11.1k, enough is enough, crew was waiting already.
Sharing a cool one with Sean and Peter, they drove to Hawthorne for food and Overnight. We set up camp cooked dinner, enjoyed sunset, stars with a cool one relaxing with nobody around for miles.
Watching the sun rise, fresh brewed coffee, pancakes, then braking camp. Still enjoying the drive back to Crystal lots of wide open spaces, Boundary Peak in full morning sunlight, did see a group of wild horses, the Sierras still with some snow.
3 Diamonds out of 5!
Bradley Baum: Mina, NV 276 miles
Great conditions were predicted to the North and Northeast. We decided on the Northern route. This would prove to be an overly optimistic forecast. I launched at 11:30. Thank you Chris and Julie for getting me on my way on a busy morning.
I released North of the second ridge on a 2000’ tow. By 12:30 I had worked my way to 11,800’ above Mt. Lewis. I called Rosamond Dry Lake Bed as my first alternate and sent my crew on his way. Not so much as a bump as I headed out over the desert. As I flew over Ave. M & 100 at 8500’ it become apparent that the air was not cooperating. At 5,700’ low I caught up with Sean(PV) circling Southeast of Rosamond Skypark. I still had plenty of margin to land at my alternate but it was getting warm. I gained enough there to send my crew on to Backus.
I encountered my first good thermal West of Mojave which gave me enough altitude to head into the mountains. Another good thermal a few miles Southeast of Cache peak and I climbed to 12,500’. It was now 2:30 and I called Inyokern, 35 miles North, as my next alternate.
I spent too much time off course chasing dissipating clouds. I arrived on the ridge East of Boomer at 3:00 with plenty of altitude to keep pushing North. I Sailed over Porter Ranch at 14,000’. Again chased decaying clouds to the East. Fooled again. Unable to gain enough altitude, I passed Olancha Peak below the summit on the East face. I struggled 4 miles North of Walt’s Point where I fell off the ridge into the valley. Now down to 8,600’ I flew over Lone Pine. I picked a good spot at the foot of the Inyo’s to fight. It was now after 4:30 and I was running out of steam. I dug my heels in and got on top. Climbed to 13,000’ and hopped aboard the Inyo. Express and headed North. I flew over Mazourka at 14,000’ under clouds at a little after 5:00.
I sent my crew on to Bishop and like a pro reset my altimeter to KBIH reporting. I pushed North into increasingly dark shadows under clouds. I arrive a little below the summit of Boundary Peak, worked my way on top and headed out at 14,500’. Lots of dissipating clouds off course to Mina. I’d learned my lesson, at least for today, and flew straight as an arrow. I arrived at Mina 6:45 with enough altitude and daylight to try climbing in the mountains to the East. I overhead Karl(C3) on the radio, he’d had enough and was landing at Gabbs. Sean(PV) followed him in. I scraped around in the mountains East of Mina but couldn’t find enough altitude to call Gabbs as my next alternate. Adding to that challenge, was the absolutely beautiful runway below at Mina.
Mike Koerner: Murphy, ID 613 miles
As anyone who knows me must realize; I’ve been blessed with more than my fair share of incredibly good soaring weather… But Sunday was ridiculous! I released just before 10 am in booming lift on the 2nd Ridge. At 11,000 feet I stepped back to the 3rd ridge, climbed to 12 and was on my way by 10:22.
My next lift was deep in Mojave Class Delta. Since the tower wasn’t active, I gave position reports until I had climbed clear. What seems remarkable about the next few hours was the degree to which I was able to climb straight ahead. I was off Boundary peak at 15,700 by 2 pm, and had stopped to thermal less than a dozen times. I crossed the diamond line at 2:48, way ahead of any previous flight’s schedule. But all that came to a screeching halt around 4 pm on the east side Pyramid Lake. My course to the Northwest was blocked by overdevelopment. There were people running around the cockpit with their heads cut off; looking around to the right, looking around to the left, looking underneath and consulting with various electronic gadgets while trying to figure out what to do next.
Finally, it was decided that we would turn 50 degrees to the right. That’s a hard decision to make. As anyone who flies straight-out knows, we don’t get paid for course deviations. From here on I’m getting 78 cents on the dollar. By 5:30 I was over McDermitt, Oregon. The day was still young and I had glide to several safe places to land further north; places I’m familiar with. There was over-development to the northwest but the clouds to the northeast looked sharp. I headed toward them. But it seems the storm cell was moving that way too, pushing me further east as the clouds turned fuzzy.
We can argue about what is “a safe glide” and what is “a safe place to land”, but stretching a glide through the rain shafts toward Burns Junction certainly wouldn’t qualify. And neither would the “Ranch Strips” in my silly database. I can’t commit my sailplane to a strip that may have been cleared for a 182 thirty years ago. The fact is, for a time, all I had was the meadows and pastures I could see over the nose. I was in violation of the cardinal rule of cross-country soaring… and I was acutely aware of it. I dumped the water and stuck with anything above zero until I had Murphy made.
I landed at 7:33 Pacific time. Murphy, Idaho is a small town. The public airport runs along the highway in the middle of town. I may be the only person to have used it in years. There are no aircraft, or tie downs or hangars or anything. The runway numbers have worn off. There’s no gas station or motel in town. In fact, the only business is the cafe. It closed at 5 on Sunday and wouldn’t open again until Tuesday. The sheriff’s station is open 24/7.
Fran had another epic road trip. She left the airport when I did but was stuck in a 60-mile long traffic jam along 395. She didn’t get to Bishop until 4 pm. She got a room in Winnemucca at midnight and joined me at noon the next day.
When we tried to open the trailer, we realized that one of the struts had failed. We used our universal gate code [bolt cutter] to hold the lid open. We got back home Tuesday. Fran deserves a vacation… or maybe a husband who plays golf.
Well it looks like we’re into another week of the same great midsummer soaring every day. Max temps around a hundred, few if any clouds, and light westerlies early – until massive lifting in the desert interior creates a surface low there, drawing an influx of south wind over our mountains each afternoon. The thing to look for locally, is the interface where west and south winds meet. If you see a cumulus that’s not right above the mountains, it will probably mark that shearline.
Last week, four pilots logged diamond distance flights out of Crystal, including a monster effort of over 600 miles, to Murphy, Idaho. See their debriefs on our SOARING IS LEARNING page, below.
IFR in a glider means I Follow Roads, right?
Well it can mean that too, but not all roads lead to good lift. What works nearly every time is following Raptors!
And just as most roads lead in two directions, birds in straight flight offer a similar choice. On average, those who are low and flapping are apt to be going toward lift, but when high and gliding, might be pointed directly away from it… Though hardly a stroke of genius, that could be a pivotal distinction. And the exact meaning of low and high, BTW, is up to you.
Many kinds of birds mark lift in different ways, such as geese, ducks, and pelicans. Even little tweety birds sometimes soar high aloft, still flapping their wings as they gobble insects carried up by thermals. (Them you may not see, however, until you’ve already found the lift.)
Ravens are the smartest creatures in the sky and master aeronauts in every phase, but their curiosity and deviousness make them unpredictable. They can mark lift brilliantly, yet don’t always circle in it. When you see three or four ravens just goofing off dogfight style, the secret is they’re probably marking lift then, too! Alas, they tend to flee when we approach, so whatever they’re up to, we should note where they were at first, and go there as they fly away…
Vultures we often see from the ground, singly or in large groups, but only rarely have I had the fortune to soar with one in a thermal. Although technically categorized as raptors, the game they hunt is no longer alive. Their trick is not catching prey with stealth or quickness, it’s detecting where remains lie, perfectly still, fading into the landscape. Hence their specialty of flying low and very slow, conserving energy in lieu of accumulating more. Efficiency is not a one-sided coin, after all.
Twice, three years apart, I watched a vulture circle slowly down over the same paved runway, waiting for a thermal to form there. Same individual? Doesn’t matter. Point is, in each case its actions were identical, and so was the result. The bird hung motionless in a shallow bank on the verge of stall, wings locked at the root, exerting no apparent muscular energy except a constant fugue of blue notes with its tail feathers. It finally bottomed out not much above fifty feet as the bubble marshaled energy — and no surprise, when a teensy dust devil sprang up, the vulture’s circle was already centered on it.
Throughout all that slow descent, then several circles of sketchy zero and many more of incremental climb, the maestro never moved a wing! Only several hundred feet up did it finally flap a couple times, not to get higher, but to generate speed for a steeper bank into the thermal’s accelerating core. Simultaneous with that, the little whirlygust gave a hushed aeroacoustic growl, pulled up its invisible trap door and left the earth for good.
Ten minutes later the maestro had specked out and gone, both times the same, three years apart. I’ll never prove that having witnessed those twin tours de force has somehow enhanced my own buoyancy in a slew of lowdown dig outs — nor can you prove it hasn’t. One of us knows the truth.
Big picture though, it’s hawks and eagles who serve as our premier soaring tutors. They fly like saintly warlocks, fierce yet dispassionate, low and very high, slow and very fast. What’s more, they have the nerve to hold position when we intrude. From any remote distance, just head straight at them, they won’t care. Not much reason to worry about ever hitting one, they’re way too quick for that. They’ll either ignore you completely or stare back in defiance, challenging you to stay with them in the very best lift.
It’s simple stuff, in principle. Centering your turn around a bird’s smaller one – the same direction of course – also makes it easier to observe. And here’s where this gets interesting. You’ll see they seldom fly many consecutive circles without some change in attitude… or direction. Raptors don’t need rules of the road; results are all that matter. Consider their every move as optimized to extract more energy from that particular situation, and do what you can to follow their lead. (Plus, if you’ve got the brain space, try to visualize more of what their singular fight paths imply about surrounding airflow.)
Wherever right of way does become an issue, just do what wise glider pilots always should, and give it up! Any bird will shy away at the last instant – if it sees you – but when you fear it may not and contact seems imminent, one rule always applies. Their first defensive strategy is to dive, so never fly directly under one, and when they’re right at eye level, don’t lower your wing it, raise it. More than once, I’ve gladly pulled my craft into a stall to assure safe passage for both vessels. Shrewd bargain if you think about it.
All these feathered exemplars will outclimb us with embarrassing quickness, and that’s okay. In the whole world, there’s no better opportunity to study how they do it and find ways to emulate perfection. We have few sure things in soaring, but IFR comes close.
Kudos this week go to Ed Fleming for his first solo flight. Congratulations Ed!
And for the coming week, lite winds and temps approaching 100 should bring classic midsummer soaring conditions, possibly improving each day.
SEE YOU SOON!