This week’s cross-country de-brief comes from Peter Kovari (6PK):

Richard (TW) and I were the only two participants of the Crystal Squadron

and after a short debate as to which-way-Jose, Richard decided to go north

and I thought the Utah direction looked more promising so we each went

different ways (hindsight being 2020 Richard had the better idea).

The forecast from all three sources; Skysight, XCskies and Dr. Jack more or

less agreed on southwesterly winds 10-12kn in the boundary layer and

thermals about 12k which pretty much equaled cloud base for the entire



I launched about 11:30 and towed to the second ridge. After release I

quickly moved under a nice-looking cloud just north of the Labor Camp and

climbed to 12k and cloud base in 2-4kt average lift which I later discovered

was pretty much the norm for the day, and much less than was predicted. So,

I went on the way to Apple Valley.


I encountered kind air, and time-to-time scrappy hard to center lift. When

arrived at Barstow there were some good-looking clouds that looked promising,

but unfortunately I was only able to climb a couple of thousand feet in

scrappy and light lift to about 9k but far from cloud base. I did not want

to waste any more time so I pushed on to the high ground south of Baker –

not finding anything but lots of sink arriving way low just before Baker

airport I finally find a nice thermal.


Tip-toeing between 6-7 k all the way to Cima with some light choppy thermals,

here and there and lots of pucker factor sink- making it to Clark Mountain

(just northeast of Cima) where I was able to climb to 9k.

Going on the lee side of Clark I anticipated sink but it was more than that

which lasted all the way to state line where I contemplated landing on Roach

dry lake for a while since down to below 6k.


Finally started climbing again under cloud bases but still not much more

than 3-4kt average but I did get to just below 13k over the high ground east

of Jean.


The clouds ran both north as well as east. However, the clouds going north

pretty much stopped a little way passed Boulder with a clear visible blue

hole still very much over the Vegas 10k high class Bravo. This concerned me

going forward north so I once again turned east toward Triangle Airpark and

Aileron Orchards (AZ49) with hopes of Williams again.


I arrived at the plateau south east of Aileron Orchards and Red Lake about

8500′   There was some shear line activity with good cloud markers but they once

again were not producing fast enough climbs, and given low cloud bases and

the time of the day and late in the season I opted to throw in the towel and

limped south to Kingman again.


Strange season for me; two flights to Kingman and two flights to Austin,

better luck next year- for me at least this season is over.






There were no diamond distance flights from Crystal last week, but Sean Eckstein‘s tale of woe is well worth the telling:
  The thermals at Crystal were not very well formed when I launched, but if you stuck with them they would top out at 9k and 10k. I finally locked into one thermal that got me to 11.2k as predicted, so I didn’t waste time and headed out on course.
  I backed my airspeed down crossing the desert to Mojave, trying to conserve all the altitude I could since the thermals in the mountains were not that impressive, and by the time I reached Backus I would be low trying to scratch my way back to the high ground.
  The conditions were not good, TW and I basically scratched our way north across the desert floor, occasionally getting to 8k – 9.5k in the mountains dealing with sink while trying to push north. Eventually both Richard (TW) and I would find ourselves working lift in Red Rock Canyon. I got enough altitude with a small margin to Inyokern, but as I started heading north I would encounter strong sink, and if the sink didn’t ease off I wouldn’t make it to Inyokern. I tried a few times but conditions were not going to improve so I called Cantil and landed.
  Cantil field is in good shape and I landed safely and came to a stop, I immediately noticed a car on the road behind some trees next to the field stopping, blocking another car behind them. The car from behind passed but the car that had stopped pulled forward a couple of times trying to get a better view.
  I flashed back to a time when me and another pilot landed in an empty industrial lot in view of the public near a freeway. I was last to land and as I opened my canopy a helicopter flew over the top of us, a police car came around the corner, followed by the paramedics, a fire truck, and another police car.
  I hopped out of my glider like a 61 yr. old and waved once. The two occupants in the car were almost climbing out the drivers window, waving  enthusiastically. It’s nice to know I gave someone a story to tell when they got home. And most important, no one called 911!
  Once again Richard (TW) and his wife Anna, Peter (6PK) and myself headed to a cool restaurant before heading back to Crystal.


The Dust Devil Dash is an informal contest held at Tehachapi every year in early September as a finale for the cross-country soaring season.  Pilots launch whenever they wish, go any direction they choose, soar straight out as far as possible and then mail a pre-addressed post card from the landing place.  A winner is determined by distance flown, handicapped to neutralize the great disparity in performance between gliders of different generations.  The prize, free breakfast and a one-of-a-kind tee shirt is awarded at the next year’s preflight meeting, during which that prior winner recounts what made their flight a success.  

One year’s wealthy runner-up flew a supership more than five hundred miles across substantial parts of California, Nevada and Idaho – yet finished second to a kid in a sixty year old military trainer.  The kid soared less than half as far, but did so with inspired (and inspiring) brilliance.  

I had never flown in any kind of competition, but happened to be the only full-time instructor there at that time and thought maybe we’d have some kind of home court advantage.  If such an edge existed though, it would hold only in that local area and for about the first hour of an all-day flight.  The plan was to launch first and grab as much distance as we could before faster ships or hotter pilots overtook us.  Against some or most of these contestants our hypothetical advantage would amount to nothing, but the strategy of striking first seemed apt either way…  

The early worm gets caught.      John Igo                  

The early bird got worms alright.  We took off before second-to-launch had even finished getting ready, too early to do anything but flounder…  If I’d known better we could have landed in time for a second launch and still been ahead of the pack.  But this tow was already paid for and I could hardly afford to spring for another, so we hung on, gradually bleeding altitude while the normal people staged and got underway.   

By the time the first batch were up and climbing, or already gone, we were languishing below a hilltop near the airport, far behind (below?) the convective power curve.  We could probably hang on however long it took to eventually get moving, but even now a relight might be quicker…  Then actually staying aloft began to seem doubtful, so I took the mulligan.  Ultimately we were last to start, an hour behind the lineup we’d meant to get a jump on.  Tail-end Charlie.  

So began my first competitive effort!  Finally out on course, I felt like the sousaphone behind a Norman Rockwell marching band:  great big zero haulin’ up the rear, huffin’ ‘n’ puffin’, hoping to not fall even further back.  

Our one remaining advantage was eaves-dropping on radio calls from the entire fleet ahead of us.  Some duffers landed soon after leaving town of course, and we caught and passed a few others, mostly in lower-performance craft, but there’s no denying the greatest influence on this flight’s outcome was my never-so-clever opening gambit.  Sure was fun though.  

By 4:00 P.M. we were catching the back of the pack somewhere north of Boundary Peak, gold distance more or less.  Front runners were spread abreast across an arc more than a hundred miles wide downwind of the start, some now passing out of radio range.  We had the height for a conservative glide of more than fifty miles with no lift (extremely unlikely) plus a couple thousand feet in reserve for landing.  From north to east lay a selection of sound alternates within range, all leading toward others further and farther apart, off into vast Nevada.  

Empty blue overlay several names on the chart but a sporadic line of cumulus led toward one.  An hour later the lift out there would be weakening, though still terrific to 17-k or so.  After that we could glide on for much of another hour at a ground speed close to eighty with low back sun revealing landscapes ahead that neither of us had ever seen from the air…  

Or we could call it quits and retreat to comfy, familiar Bishop seventy miles back.  

“Say what!” gasped Pedro, “What about the ‘Never turn back’ mantra?”  

I reminded my friend that from here forward every mile would add doubly to the time and cost of our retrieve, getting us home late the next night.  Yes we had planned for exactly that, but any chance of a competitive result was blown before we started, thanks to Moi.  A retreat from here would shorten the distance by hundreds for crew and vehicle, we all could enjoy a leisurely evening, then get a tow in the morning for a nice easy flight home, and avoid de-rigging and re-rigging the glider as well.  While today’s winners endured all-day treks from who knows where, we’d be frolicking home in style.  Pedro was disheartened but weary, and reluctantly agreed.  

If you chase off your devils, the angels fly away too.     Joni Mitchell

Next day, all day, early overdevelopment and afternoon smoke kept us away from a direct route and the best lift.  Then a drum brake on our trailer seized, leaving us on our own as noble crew dealt with that nightmare however they could.  (Isn’t it odd how mechanical fubars always seem to happen on Sunday when every garage in the world is locked?)  We could feel sorry as we liked for our crew, and ourselves for that matter, but until we landed it was each of us for her- or himself.  

On we slogged all afternoon through shaded, unkind air, eventually getting low only thirty miles out.  Sunset was fading from bloody smoke to icky brown as we limped toward the last airport short of home, Cal City, with nary a beggar’s chance for one more climb.  

The tarmac was silent but still hot and we were peeking in the restaurant’s dark windows when two sets of headlights turned off the highway and onto the airport entrance road.  They were pilots from yesterday’s Dash who normally kept their ships there, dropping them off for the next weekend.  After running away from us one day they’d come from behind and caught us the next, now all set for their own relaxed evenings while we wouldn’t be completing our retrieve until sometime tomorrow at best — with our poor crew still stuck upcountry ten times as far from home!  All for a pair of ordeals that netted a total of 23 miles, nowhere in the end.  

Nowhere except soaring Nirvana, those majestic ranges that surround the Owens Valley.  On two very different kinds of day, neither suffocating frustration nor choking smoke could diminish the grandeur of soaring there.  Our human limitations only accentuate the scale of that special place, not just its size and power, but absolute PRESENCE.  

Two bad days in Heaven beats Hell on Christmas, you could say.  Not that I’m an expert on either, yet, but even striking out can make for fine memories if you do it in Yankee Stadium.  Oh I don’t know, that little adventure lies so far back the details are as fuzzy now as my mind was then, yet new lessons still continue to emerge each time I recall it.  


We have so many special treats in Crystal’s soaring playground they often compete for our attention, and there’s no better example than the variety of shearlines that regularly form in certain places. With light winds from both sides common after noon, these gather thermals into reliable lines and clusters, zones of solid convergence, and sometimes so much of both you need to fly fast to stay below cloud base.
Clouds or no, shearlines can vary in width from monsters miles across to demons so narrow the slightest deviation puts you off one side like a foot trail in the dark. Such corridors of lift may run continuously for great distances but often are intermittent. And no surprise, the sink within a strong shear can be impressive too. Whatever else is going on, you can bet there’ll be sink ahead somewhere. What to do about that? As with any hindrance you can’t avoid, the fun is in finding a way to use it.
I was cruising along a line of absurdly periodic lift and sink, following Paddy, a devout novice so green he was just beginning to learn how much there was to learn. (Paddy thought he was alone on that shearline, unaware that I had overtaken him since the last time he took a full look around…) There he sat a few lengths ahead and two to the left, holding steady as if for a portrait, loving life no doubt — and failing to harness much of the atmospheric bounty all around.
When I saw him enter a sharp sinker with no change of attitude, I pushed over in a shallow dive and called on 123.5 to say, “Papa Delta, look two o’clock low.” Passing well under, I also passed by him to pull up in the next lift, now a length ahead and higher. By the time he reached that same lift seconds later I was already diving in the next sink, only to zoom up again even further ahead.
Paddy keyed his mike, laughing, “Whatta you in got there, a jet pack?”
Knowing he was a lifelong skier, I answered, “Like humping moguls, but going up instead of down. Get it?”
To certify this was no fluke, I swung around and formed up beside him, still ambling along at fifty something. (As it happened, our gliders were basically identical.) We exchanged waves and I said, “Now it’s your turn. When you feel sink nose into it, and when you feel resistance pull up. I’ll wait here and watch.”
He overdid that first try a bit, plunging hundreds of feet before bottoming out, then pulled up harder than necessary too, in one yank wasting much of the energy absorbed from tons of boiling air. Yet even after those excessive inputs Paddy still had the juice to loft clear back up where he started, beside me.  We dove the next sinker together, a staggered wing formation with Paddy following my more moderate example… and after zooming up from that one he was hooked for life.

Run some simple numbers and you’ll see that precision, though helpful, is not necessary.  Because any reasonable combination of faster in sink and slower in lift will always pay, even dolphining too aggressively costs less than doing nothing!  


So next time you’re playing a line of intermittent lift and somebody’s out ahead, see if you can catch them with nothing more than timely changes in airspeed.  


Then challenge them to catch you.