Southern California Soaring Academy, Glider Flight School, The Best Soaring Site in Los Angeles County

Southern California Soaring Academy, Glider Flight School, The best soaring site in Los Angeles County

The best soaring site in Los Angeles County

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Virtual Cross Country Routes

Local XC Triangle

Here is Dale's popular local cross-country triangle. On this route we typically fly 100 miles or more without ever going beyond glide range of CRYSTAL.

The fuzzy yellow-green lines indicate approximate positions of common shear lines that separate distinctly different air masses. El Mirage and CRYSTAL lie within a large area of buoyant Mojave air, while Hesperia and Palmdale are embedded in lobes of relatively more humid marine air (shaded in this image) flooding into the desert through the passes on either side of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The pink triangle indicates our basic course. We take the usual tow to Pinyon Ridge and climb out toward Mt. Baldy. After topping out we turn north and follow the shear to El Mirage and then Silver Lakes, or perhaps all the way to Los Vegas, finding great lift all along the way. (Here we could also turn southeast and fly a very different triangle.)

Our second leg will be forty miles if we run west from Silver Lakes all the way to the corner of Restricted Area 2515. Out there the lift may not be as good, but there are many fine places to land if necessary (hasn't happened yet…). Then, from Lancaster to CRYSTAL is only 25 miles or so, an easy glide from any ordinary thermal.

One interesting aspect of this particular course is that most of it lies over flat desert, where finding and using lift is not the same as in the mountains...

Also, notice that from the eastern corner a direct return to CRYSTAL would take you over several small hills before and after El Mirage. In fact, a straight line glide from Silver Lakes to CRYSTAL is often made, over 30 miles at good altitude and speed, with no loss of altitude!

San Gabriel Mtns

Below is a photo of the Silver Lakes turnpoint, looking NORTH.

Silver Lakes

To find this field from the ground, leave the National Trails Highway (old Rt 66) at the Silver Lakes turnoff, cross the (dry) Mojave River, and bear left at the intersection where there is a store. Drive south between the river and a walled development, beyond the edge of town. Go on dirt roads left of the highway, up & to the right, into the southern of two huge fields.

It has been considered a better landing place for sailplanes, because it's plenty big enough for aero tows, and the Palisades strip itself is kept locked. However, a visit in May of, 2004 revealed that the field is now locked also...

Given that development, the strip is actually a better landing surface - and the owner is reputed to be FRIENDLY ! Seen from the air, the preferred field usually displays a tiny airport mowed out for radio controlled model planes.


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San Jacinto & Return

This time we'll try something more challenging. How about Crystal to Mt. San Jacinto and return?

The turn point distance is only 80 miles from here, but we'll have to fly a good bit farther than 160 miles to get there and back.

The entire route is depicted in one image - but viewed from all four cardinal directions.

We will be interested to hear any reaction from you about how this virtual flight works, compared to the previous one…

Looking SOUTH

San Jacinto and Return

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Boundary Peak & Return

Imagine what it's like to soar from Crystal, 235 miles north to Boundary Peak and then back, using a different route each way. You could correctly say that such a flight is a very ambitious undertaking, but it's far from impossible.

This course was flown successfully for the first time by Ed Minghelli in a home-built two seat sailplane in 1975, and has been repeated unknown times since then. (Minghelli's flight was at that time a world record, and his 'PRUE II' now resides in the Soaring Museum!)

First, avoid a head on collision. Print out, memorize, and take with you the WHITE MOUNTAIN SAFETY PROCEDURE ALPHA card (PDF 51kb).

In this first phase we're departing Crystal to the northwest after climbing to 14,000' or so in the San Gabriel mountains. We turn the southwest corner of restricted area 2515 surrounding Edwards Air Force Base.

Be sure to call Joshua Control on 133.65, to let them know we're coming by. On weekends we might even to ask permission for overflight. Weekdays, forget it and just fly around to the west. The very first hill after leaving the San Gabriels is Silver Queen, 45 miles out, just beyond Rosamond. This small conical hill is a very good thermal source with a fine private landing field (not on the sectional chart) a couple miles south.

Boundary - Palmdale Section

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In this area we look for SHEARLINES. They form around the Tehachapi Pass, and we can use the wind turbines, for critical information about wind directions. In lighter conditions, we just climb onto the east facing slopes and then top out at Cache Peak before moving on.

The Plateau is a broad, fairly flat forested area about 6000 feet above sea level - well above the surrounding desert. It is not a good place to glide over low, but the edges of it usually produce fine thermals.

Boundary - California City


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From great lift at Boomer, we proceed up the crest to 8000' Owens Peak, and if we're not already very high, it may pay to loiter in this area until we do get high.

Boundary - Walker pass

We're now on the main watershed of the Sierra crest, and it will rise MUCH higher ahead. If we leave Owens Peak low, we could be shot down and need to land at Cinder Cone Dry Lake.

(Little Lake is a beautiful place with a paved landing strip that is TOO NARROW and OFF LIMITS.)

In this area the soaring conditions often change - usually for the better. If we stay with the first good thermal we find, we might be able to climb to 16,000' or even higher, and maybe remain that high for many, many miles to come !

If the usual tremendous thermals aren't working, it is some sometimes possible to simply slope soar the whole way, gradually rising with the terrain. In other conditions, we might fall off to the east, below the ridge top, and then find good shear line - or just periodic thermals above the flats. Wave is also a possibility.

The problem with leaving the mountains here is that we would then be in a very narrow corridor between high terrain and the China Lake restricted area 2505. For permission to penetrate that airspace we would again call Joshua Control, but this time on 120.25 or 127.5. If there is lift in those barren hills, OK, but we must remember that there is NO PLACE TO LAND

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Boundary - Owens Lake

Beyond Olancha the terrain really gets interesting. As the Owens Valley opens ahead on the right, we pass a series of rock gardens on the crest, each one unique. The ever steepening slopes are ever higher as well...

Although the lift north of here on the Sierras can be terrific, it is usually weaker and less consistent than the lift on the Inyos. Also, the Sierra terrain is so high, that usable airspace is severely reduced. The 'big boys' going for distance and/or speed almost always cross the valley here for superior conditions to the east. (We'll come back south on the Sierra side, just for the UNBELIEVABLE SCENERY.)

Here we're ready to cross the Owens Valley (20 miles with not much lift) to the Inyos, a huge, bare rock ridge that spawns some of the greatest thermal lift on Earth. (Don't forget your White Mountain Procedure Alpha card).

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Boundary - Independence

If we arrive at the Inyos no lower than 8,000' a quick, high climb is almost guaranteed. It pays to get high soon here, and then stay directly above the crest, cruising from one tremendous mile of lift to the next. A slight dogleg to Waucoba is usually worth the little extra distance, to stay in more continuous lift.

After Waucoba, Westgard Pass is thirty miles of low, rugged hills and less lift. Unless there is an obvious line of clouds, the best bet is to run directly for Black Mt and another sure climb. Otherwise, arriving low at the southern end of the Whites can become too time consuming.

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Boundary - Bishop

White Mountain Peak is the highest point in California outside the Sierras. It is hard to imagine a more prolific thermal source anywhere. From there the lift is usually even more continuous the last 15 miles to our turnpoint at Boundary Peak. From Boundary we can see forever into Nevada's Great Basin, and northwest to Mono Lake. Turning south, a shear line often runs diagonally across the wide north end of the Owens Valley north of Bishop, and with average luck we can use it to cross all the way to the Sierras, perhaps remaining as high as 16,000 feet !

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Boundary - Big Pine

As we ride along the Sierra crest, we have one delicious landscape below us and very different ones on either side. To our west lies a stark landscape, all above timberline - nothing but naked rock and thousands of exquisite lakes, descending into huge forested canyons that disappear in the distance. Running down the Sierra crest, we porpoise from one stunning pinnacle to the next. To our east the Owens Valley is itself a unique landscape, 2 miles deep and 20 miles across.

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Boundary - Mt. Whitney

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A few miles after Whitney we soar out over forest for the first time in more than 60 miles.

Boundary - Sacatar area


Often in the afternoon the strongest line of lift runs several miles west of the crest, with cloud base typically around 15,000 to 17,000 feet all the way back to Inyokern, or beyond.


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Boundary - Piutes

It's getting late now ! Fortunately for us the best lift is often arranged in a nearly straight line to the south. If there are cumulus, they usually thin out as we leave the Sierras. Back in the Kelso Valley neighborhood, we may need to rely on coloration of the air to see where the shear lines lie ahead. As the mountains and the low ground both descend, our average altitude does, too. We could veer right, back across Cache Peak, and over to Tehachapi's mountains for a last climb to 15,000 feet, but that probably won't be necessary. Shear lines in the flat desert almost always provide climbs to 12,000' or higher late in the day, and that's enough to embark on a 40 mile final glide from Rosamond...


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Boundary - Crystal

However, if we're unable to reach final glide altitude at Rosamond, we may need to finish our flight by tiptoeing across the wide, flat expanse pictured above.

Numerous abandoned farm fields are sprinkled along the way - local knowledge of preferred landing options are a big help if we're low at the very end...

(We appreciate responses, corrections and critiques of this feature and any of our others.)



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