Birds in flight possess flawless instinct. I don’t believe that – after thirty years of daily soaring activity and twice that many on the ground looking up, I know it.  What vultures do best is a glorious airborne form of languor. These avians know how to fly S L O W. They commonly glide to windward in search of carrion, inching along very low at hardly more than a walking pace, oddly rocking their wings in frequent stall recovery. No one would attribute that to lousy flying skills. It’s simply the way to fly As Slow As Possible. That’s how the experts do it. They know all this aerodynamic stuff at birth, and in every circumstance the brilliance of instinct is central to their behavior. I’ve seen too many examples to even remember, so let’s settle for the latest.

Two vultures gliding slowly by displayed a subtlety they surely mastered a million years ago, that I’d just never happened to see before.  Their staggered formation was loose by airmen’s standards, but the longer I watched the more it seemed ideal for their purpose – they are birds, after all.

The bigger one, older and more experienced, was flying ‘lead’ while the ‘wing’ held position at eight o’clock a few yards back. Mother and son perhaps? Doubt it matters. They were a couple hundred feet up, creeping into a stiff breeze and using periodic boundary layer turbulence for lift. Their ground speed was close to zero when pulling up in it, and maybe double that while ‘diving’ through the associated sink.

In a straight glide, number 2 could not keep up with number 1, who held advantages in wing loading and general proficiency. But as number 1 bore on into the headwind scarcely moving a feather, its ups and downs gave evidence of lift and sink before number 2 entered that same air. Genius lay in what 2 did with this information.

Each time 1 entered lift, 2 would edge toward it and pull up when it reached the lift. Once that was behind them, 2 would slide back to its prior separation. When 1 hit sink, 2 would immediately veer away, and avoid at least some of it. In this way a bird who was demonstrably less efficient managed to keep pace despite flying a longer path.

And all the while, neither of those two avatars once flapped a wing, and altogether expended less energy than you do simply holding your head up to read these words. If people could fly like that without being tongue lashed, CFIGs would be out of work.


We need your help! Over the next few weeks we’ll be fundraising for our Warriors SOAR program. Our Giving Tuesday goal (Dec.1st) is $50,000, which will allow us to continue our missions and provide 200 veterans a soaring flight in 2021. Southern California Soaring Academy is a 501c3 non profit organization, which makes your donations tax deductible.

Weather? Not much this week. Looks like cloudy Friday and less so for the weekend. Highs in the sixties, with a northerly breeze that, if it gets strong aloft might provide a winter favorite, bow wave… (And aren’t those mountains beautiful with all that snow?)


Why not execute your checklist well before initiating a landing pattern? Too many pilots wait until after entering downwind, when it may be already too late for timely response to developments such as a change in surface wind, mechanical failure, HEAVY SINK, or unexpected traffic…
There are numerous reasons for not entering the pattern from higher than standard altitude. First, starting with excess height demands that you alter normal methodology, and can lead to unnecessary difficulties. If you lack inexperience or currency what you need is practice, and entering the pattern unnecessarily high denies an opportunity to reinforce and refine ordinary procedure. Perhaps someone else is in a BLIND SPOT, intending to land and assuming you’re not. If they’re directly below they may never see you, and innocently cut you off. No fooling: I’ve seen this happen twice in one landing! Or another pilot may be soaring nearby, lower but still above pattern height, and trying to stay aloft. By entering too soon you could oblige them to give up and land first, before they otherwise would.
If you’ve arrived lower than standard pattern entry height, flying a full pattern would only squander precious energy and lengthen the period of increased hazard. Instead (being very careful not to interrupt ordinary traffic!) fly to the point where you can intercept standard procedure as high and as soon as possible. The objective is to make a safe landing in a safe place. You and them! Nothing else matters.


First, we honor our countries veterans for their service, not just this day but all the time!
Now for another week of sunny weather. Expect chilly mornings and breezy afternoons, with your best bet for lift at any particular time being the trusty work camp. More a no-brainer than a stroke of genius — or maybe a bit of both…