MIKE KOERNER’S LATEST 500-MILER

I flew to McDermitt, Oregon on Friday. SkySight predicted that would be the best day of the weekend with the potential for a flight to Rome State. 

I launched at 9:40 am, released in lift, and floated up with the top of the thermals until reaching 13K at 11 am, 1⁄2 hour before SkySight predicted I would be able to sustain at 8.5K over Mojave. 

The 8.5K proved elusive. I tried to climb 4 sisters (the ridge NW of Cache Creek) but with cold air pouring down through Tehachapi pass I was forced to retreat. Heading for Cal City, I opened the dump valve. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled into the 8.5 thermal and closed the valve after the first circle with most of the water still aboard (though it doesn’t seal completely after in-flight activations). 

The lift was much stronger past the rockpile north of Kelso but overdevelopment drove me off the Sierra abeam Coso, and then again, off the Whites abeam Tinemaha. Dark clouds and virga limited navigation to blue areas off the mountains. Though it was only 2 pm, I was ready to throw in the towel. I would have landed at Bishop but looking back I realized the storm cell I had gone around was building in that direction and would probably get there first. 

I picked a relatively clear passage toward Gabbs where I could see sunlight on the ground. Once there, the sky had cleared to where I could see overdevelopment to the east, a blue hole toward 

the northwest, and in between, straight to the north, a wonderful cloud street. 

I came under the last dying clouds of the day over McDermit. The ragged bases were high enough to get me to Rome State. But the lift was broken and weak and the climb was frustratingly slow… so I left. But with insufficient margin to make Rome, and no more lift in the offing, I was forced to turn back, landing at 7:30. 

2021’s FIRST DIAMOND DISTANCE FLIGHT

Mike Koerner’s report:  314 miles to Hurricane, NV.
I flew to Hurricane on Friday. After a hard slog behind Crystal, I finally left Baden Powell at 11,000’ at 12:30. The crux of the flight was between Baker and Cima Dry Lake, with a low point of 4,000 MSL. Then boom, 15,000’ over the Spring Mountains and I was off to the races.
It was a trick. There was no lift for the next 50 miles. I slowed back down and climbed up Mormon Mesa which gave me a minimum glide to Hurricane, 63 miles away.
That was a trick too. Despite my very best efforts and wholehearted concentration, my Hurricane arrival altitude kept withering away, conjuring images non-standard patterns. Eventually it dropped below half a wingspan but still I continued on, confident in the knowledge that I could divert to St. George if necessary. And when St. George too, turned clear, and my only official waypoint still green, Mesquite, was falling away behind me, still I pressed on, relying now on Littlefield, where the fields are, fortunately, not all that little.
And when I was certain that the only remaining lift would be orographically triggered, I found in the mountains north of the Virgin Gorge.
This was my first cross-country in almost 2 years. I’m happy to be flying again. Though I had several equipment issues, including a significant error in the glide calculation settings, I think the pilot did well enough.
Peter Kovari’s report 226 miles to Kingman, AZ.
It was my turn in the barrel and I was itching to start the season off. My choices were either Saturday or Sunday since the Memorial weekend. Saturday’s forecast was weaker with a slight tailwind towards Vegas however the highs looked better for Sunday with a considerable headwind component.
I opted to go on Sunday and boy; the forecasts were spot on, with pretty good highs but a stiff headwind sometimes showing as much as 15kn on the nose.
I left relatively low from the second ridge as I could only muster just below 11k, (tried Baden Powell, Lewis, etc., with negative results). Due to the headwind I had to call Adelanto as my first alternate as the otherwise usual glide to Apple Valley from that altitude was now out of the question.
All went relatively well but painfully slow with good climbs and equally massive sink in between all the way to east of Jean where over the high ground and under some nice cu’s I made it up to 16,300’.
My first choice was going north toward Utah but over the Las Vegas Bravo was this huge blue hole with not much else through the horizon, so once again I opted to turn right toward Red Lake Arizona where far in the distance were clouds visible, and the winds were also predicted more favorable.
I arrived at the east side of the lake bed about 9,500’, and now I could see a line of cu’s mostly over the Grand Canyon with lots of virga and as I started looking for lift to get up on the top of the plateau but only to find weak sporadic stuff. The choice I had was to push forward and try getting lucky, if not lucky then having to turn around and landing at the lake bed or at the nearby Aileron Orchards private strip if losing all the margins, a much longer retrieve.
Since it was now closer to six and a long flight out of the question, I opted to turn south, and since I had the altitude, I landed at Kingman.

TO BUZZ OR NOT TO BUZZ

There may be no greater temptation for glider pilots than sneaking down from nowhere to ambush mountaintop hikers and scare their hats off, then vanish in silence.  Many variants of such behavior exist, on all levels of discourtesy and hazard.  Some hot dogs turn on their rapt audience and attack again, repeatedly swooping so low and fast that more excitable spectators are terrified, perhaps angered.  I’ve been guilty myself many times, but eventually comprehended its folly, and have abstained now (well, nearly anyway) for years.  A few have had too much fun this way, with the gravest of consequences.  The choice was theirs.  You overcome this addiction like any other, one seductive mountaintop at a time.  

began to wise up after screaming across the highest peak for miles, where an innocent hiker was watching with binoculars.  Just to be mean, I angled around and came at him directly out of the sun.  The instant before my shadow hit him he blanched violently, blinded by the magnified light – and as he fell backward into bushes my head bounced up and broke the canopy.  Just desserts.  

Soon this lesson was reinforced to my eternal embarrassment.  (For minds feeble as mine, anything worth learning is worth relearning.)  On one pointed peak far from any hiking trail, a single spruce stood well above all others.  After skimming over it several times on solo flights and dipping to barely touch its soft flexible crown with my wheel, I decided to try it with a passenger…  

No, I didn’t botch it, though it couldn’t have been much less satisfying if I had.  As we glided away afterward, the man who’d entrusted me with his life felt strongly enough to turn around in the front seat and, eye to eye, say, “That was really STUPID!”  

How could any adult disagree?  So I grew up, a little anyway.  

Here’s a more benign tactic that better serves the pleasure and safety of everyone, promoting good relations with no risk of being reported to authorities, or killed.  Arrive well below the summit, where those watching from above might naturally wonder if you’re in trouble.  Perhaps even disappear awhile behind a hip of the hill before climbing elegantly by them (not over them), waving like royalty on parade.  This gives you time to enjoy laughing with them as they impulsively wave back.  Then while they’re still smiling, a picturesque but chaste wing-over or two can provide a fine encore before you soar quietly away with beguiling dignity.  Think of it as interactive theater, better soaring through empathy.                                                                         

On one small mountain stood an abandoned fire tower, such an easy hike from the road that folks were almost always up there watching through the blown-out windows.  Countless times I coasted past in a saintly 2-33, opening its big back window to reach out and beckon, “Come on UP!”  

Eventually an elderly woman came to the airport who’d seen us from the tower and gushed, “If that crazy fellow hasn’t crashed yet I want him to take me for a ride!”  

“That was probly me,” I said.  (Where was she when I was nineteen?)

And we had a great time.  That should be the idea, after all, enticing those who see us to give it a try, and then sharing the joy with them too.  

Nevertheless, though most people on mountaintops enjoy a good spectacle, even when we’re entirely gracious not everyone wishes to watch us                                                 

Climbing by one of the Sierras’ 14,000-foot peaks we came upon a true alpinist, replete with lederhosen and even the traditional Tyrolean hat (got close enough to see that its feather was green!).  Arriving at the summit almost simultaneously, I presumed he’d join us in a celebration of grand delight, but when he saw us he turned immediately away.  What could have distracted him?  After two more passes from different directions, his shunning us each time was a clear message.  This doughty individual had climbed his mountain the hard way, striving many hours more than the few minutes it took us.  The view he’d won was truly majestic and his satisfaction should have been absolute, but here we were marring both.  We can suppose he’d climbed similar peaks in Europe where sailplanes are common as birds, and been annoyed by yahoos like us most every time.  So, honoring his effort and privacy, we flew straight away and left him in peace.                                                                                       

Yet even after learning some manners, I must admit strafing other hilltops that I thought were unpeopled…  One summer day the top of a ski hill lay ahead and, expecting no one there, I swept across between the lift shack and nearest trees without turning to look back.  Weeks later, on a chance meeting in town a ski bum buddy assailed me with feigned umbrage.  

“You deviant!” he growled.  Seems he was up there that day with a lady friend and, unbeknownst, I caught them ‘en flagrante’.  

Honestly innocent, I never saw a thing, but the best apology I could muster was a smirking, “Ah, delicto!”  

Another time on a different mountain we meant only to be polite, gliding quietly by – and found a young woman ardently galloping her manly steed bareback.  (For this naked cowgirl and her paramour it was we who floated ‘cross the ceiling.) 

Utterly irresistible!  Condemn us if you must or forgive if you can, but having simply no choice, we quickly swung ‘round for another pass.  And there they were only moments later, sitting circumspectly side by side, ‘clothed’ you could say, smiling coyly and yes, waving.  To get even half zipped and buttoned on such short notice, they must have had lots of practice…  

Even so, that’s one ride they’ll both remember as long as we will.

FIRST COMMUNION

It was time for a new student’s first try at thermaling, and I got all giddy recalling the delights of my own initiation.  Staying in the thermal long enough to slow gravity for a while was such a miracle, I muttered to myself all evening and mourned that I couldn’t go for even more glory the very next day.  If this kid fares no better, I thought, he’ll have plenty to think about for the next week.  

As we settled in beneath the nearest circling glider I explained that the pilot above us was an airline captain with beaucoup soaring experience whose ship was both slicker and more maneuverable.  “Expect him to climb away, but let’s see what we can learn before he leaves us behind.”  

Holding station beneath the other bird, I gave over control, and half a circle later the predictable oscillations began on every axis.  

“Try not to jerk the stick,” I recited for the millionth time, “and hold your nose steady on the horizon while we’re turning.”  On and on, the usual litany, but this student was quicker than most.  Adopting my tweaks eagerly as if he they were his own, soon he was making corrections himself, unprompted, and we began to gain on that bird above…  

Our thermal was rising from one of several chutes between buttresses of a higher ridge line.  Noting that sun angle and wind direction favored a similar spot nearby, I said, “You’re doing fine already.  Now let’s straighten out and cross this spur for the next bowl, to see what’s different about it.”  

Immediately we found fresher lift and, after topping out there, moved on again.  Meanwhile the airline captain remained in that first thermal, hundreds higher than before, though now lower than us.  As the lesson continued we forgot about him, but I heard later that on that very flight he flew 400 miles before landing two states away!  

Although we never went anywhere that day, other than eventually back to the airport, we proved that an apt beginner with earnest effort and just a little help might harness atmospheric energy as efficiently as a proud old-timer lulled into indifference by the twin luxuries of high performance and premium weather.  

Soaring great distances on a perfect day can be more fun than anyone deserves, but in a modern racing sailplane it’s no heroic feat.  So if you’re obliged to fly in weak or difficult conditions, or in low performance craft, there’s no reason to feel deficient.  The point of soaring should be to enjoy making the most of what IS, while laying an essential foundation for terrific adventures yet to come.