CHICKEN LITTLE WAS RIGHT

Diversion is always welcome for commuters at bus stops, and in downtown Portland long ago my favorite was the construction of what is still Oregon’s tallest building. Forty stories sounds high compared to an attic apartment, but it’s only five hundred and some feet, about the same as base leg for most glider pilots.

While I was watching, one humongous sheet of wrapping material tore loose from somewhere way up top and drifted out over the street, proceeding to simply hover there as if it belonged — right in the throbbing heart of what scientists call a ‘heat island’. Laid out nearly flat like a beach blanket, the thing seemed unsure whether to go up, down, or sideways, trying each direction after the other. It even ducked around the corner to peek up a different street, then skulked reluctantly back stories lower.

My bus arrived on time, but the show was just getting started, so I waived it. Another’d be coming. Two curiosities held me: how long might this take, and why did no one in the multitude milling all around that intersection even notice? The first question I’ve now answered myself a thousand times over, and the second I long since dismissed, guessing maybe I’d rather not know.

Imagine this same object floating in your normal landing pattern, yes forty floors up. From that height, most conventional gliders can’t possibly stay airborne for more than five minutes without assistance — yet this performance had run for twenty, and was still far from over!

By the time my bus came and left again I was getting hungry. The silent object of all this public disinterest had fallen maybe halfway, and looked broad enough to completely smother a car if it ever reached the ground. Weary of watching in slow motion a crash that hadn’t happened yet, and wary of its aftermath, I decided to hop the next bus no matter what. Like leaving a ball game in extra innings with the bases loaded, easier to say than do.

The third bus creeping into view meant most of an hour had passed. Meanwhile that magic carpet was poising to lose its spell and tumble through crossed wires onto live traffic. Which would arrive first?

Slow outruns slower, so the bus won. Short story shorter, I flagged a cop, pointed up to what immediately ambushed his full attention, and boarded my ride at last. Through the rear window I enjoyed seeing individuals on both sides of the street begin to peer above their two dimensional world, soon prompting everyone to awaken almost at once! Some diversion.

And?

That’s when my bus rounded the corner out of sight. What happened next, you’ll have to ask them. For me, what I’d already seen is more compelling even now, than some blind debacle I had the fortune to avoid.

JUNE SOON

Last Saturday, Sean Eckstein made the first cross-country soaring flight from Crystal this year, 187 miles to Jean, NV. It’s been a freakishly cold may here I (feeding that freakish plague of tornadoes back east), but conditions that day were close to perfect. The coming week, each day should be a lot like Sean’s was, as afternoon temperatures finally begin to hit eighty and winds remain light.

SEE YOU SOON, JUNE

TWO YAW STRINGS MEET IN A BAR…

No, actually they met on the canopy of a noble old Blanik. More believable, don’t you think? It was pure coincidence, both just happened to get stuck there, but they loved flying together and seemed to agree on nearly everything. Theirs was a whirlwind affair, springtime you know. After a weekend of unforgettable soaring – and that balmy first night together – they decided to tie the knot. Then before they knew it a little string came along, cute as a ribbon, debuting as a tuft in some hoity-toity wind tunnel experiment… Nah, that part never happened, don’t be ridiculous!

The summer romance soon cooled in the usual manner and they went separate ways, same as everybody else. Feeling disconnected, Mr. String was drifting aimlessly when found in the parking lot by a rabid student pilot and pressed into service on, of all things, the windscreen of a crotch rocket. He had to learn a different lingo for the new gig, still based on relative wind as before, but in this case measuring crab angle — a matter of outsized curiosity for glider loons; quite meaningless to normal people. Flying down narrow roads was scary at times, but only in the existential sense, and better than lying curled up on the ground.

Then one day it rained, and Mr. String met his destiny… Qué será.

Strings come and go, but their work lives on. In those two occupations, that single string was compelled to make dissimilar assertions about the same information, yet each was a version of truth. Meanwhile though, essential details were being ignored. In neither context did the string register gravity… Was the oversight incidental, or intentional? Misinformation or disinformation? Exactly!

 

So, how much of all this is made up, and what is’t? The difference between real BS and the fake stuff can be hard to detect. Some claim each is just the other inside out. To me they look identical, inside and out. What’s your take? In this new era of choose-your-own-facts-&-they-don’t-have-to-make-sense, perhaps a little more of the same will help us decide what to say we believe:

 

For her part, Ms. String eventually found a second career, working not above any figurative circus net of plexiglas, but ‘wheels up’ in what experts call the side string biz. Strings attached to the sides of a craft indicate relative wind too, but in a relative way. (CAUTION: Errordynamic Relativism, that branch of science we absolutists hate to love!) See, with nothing but air between a string and the ground, gravity has full sway at all times. No lolling off to one side when at rest, a proper side string points its tail shamelessly at the center of Mother Earth. And even at top speed, a silent degree or two of dip divulges raw gravitational data those other strings obscure.

Side strings accept gravity as a constant and weave it into the data. Put three little sharpie dots inside your canopy, one each for best glide, minimum sink and incipient stall, and let the string do the rest. Better info than that, you will have to fabricate yourself. (Hint: if you’d rather drive everybody nuts and have no scruples whatever, move the string’s attach point a quarter inch when no one’s looking. It’s a hoot!)

Anyway, with or without numbers, Ms. String is reputedly still out there, on one side or another, doing her never level best to help neophytes comprehend the obvious. Nice to know, isn’t it? Every thread goes somewhere after all, and it’s good to have a purpose.

So much for wuzzy fuzzy outcomes. Now what about that baby string? If it didn’t grow up and become a research tuft, what else didn’t it do? Or is it even still around? Very suspicious!
Lots of dust has blown across the runway since then. Operators change hands, and new rumors cast doubt on whether Junior ever existed! Another dodge? Who knows, with so many gliderports these daze, it could have found a home at any number of remote strips in the hinterland, and might be hiding soaring somewhere even now in plane site. If so, we know there’s adventure in its fiber. Sky’s the limit for whatever renegade versions of truth our little urchin might itself one day disclose. Let’s hope that, like D. B. Cooper, he never gets caught.

The only thing for sure is, you never know. Besides, what happens in the Mojave stays in the Mojave, or some such nonsense. No really, that’s what they’re saying! 😉

Not sure I can believe that either, but okay…

TWO MORE PILOTS UP THERE

First, belated congratulations to Katie Hetland and Christian Roche, who passed their glider check rides in the last couple of weeks. Just in time for summer — if summer ever comes.

Now about that, have you noticed how unseasonably cold and windy our local weather has been for late May? Turns out it’s the aftermath of a (heretofore) unique occurrence that was accurately foreseen more than a week in advance. It’s complicated of course, but earlier this month scientists monitoring the historic disappearance of Arctic ice predicted that a current heat wave up there, on top of yet another early melt season, would cause chain reactions in the upper atmosphere causing what we see now at this latitude (us ending up with the Arctic’s air, more or less, and it ending up with ours). They were right again, surprise surprise. Coincidentally, this week The Guardian, a world-wide British newspaper, announced it will no longer emphasize ‘climate change’ in its reporting. For the sake of accuracy, and to keep pace with accelerating events, they’ll use a more appropriate term, ‘climate crisis’, going forward. Maybe they’re trying to tell us something.

No worries, everything is cyclic. If we don’t get the message and do lose the Arctic, we’ll only need to wait another ten thousand years or so until it comes back…